Jenna Watt (assistant director), Ros Steen (voice director)
The dull drone of a church organ permeates the theatre as Rob Drummond and Nicholas Bone stroll about the stage dressed in sober black suits of another century. Drummond is already in about the audience asking questions to some dumfounded folk about the ten commandments he’s been chalking up on the tongue- in- groove triptych altar that holds in its simplicity dull echoes of joyless Presbyterian halls.
Both Drummond and Bone are, to use the musical cliché, sons of preacher men but ones who haven’t followed their fathers’ footsteps, choosing instead to step on the road of atheism.
Inspired by a Victorian memoir about growing up in an evangelical Christian family entitled Father and Son, these two men have written a play that examines the dilemmas, contradictions and tensions around holding a belief system that’s in opposition with someone you both love and respect, in this case, their fathers.
Much of the performance takes the form of direct narration from the very different characters of Drummond and Bone, with some bickering and jockeying woven in to the script, as they take on a mix of roles between their own childhood experiences and excerpts from Edmund Gosse’s book. Simon Wilkinson’s exquisite lighting adds to the air of this part of the play being like a Magic Lantern show for the 21st century. Karen Tennent’s beautifully detailed set of light boxes salutes science and enlightenment and contains two delicate family christening robes that ironically embraced non -gendered attire at a time of very separately gendered spheres.
The rather strained interaction between the ever -enquiring Drummond, who seemingly wants to stray from the script, and the more rule bound Bone who doggedly sticks to the prescribed path, feels contrived. It is only well into the performance, when the two symbolically shed the black garb to reveal modern day tee shirts showing their individuality, that the play takes on a more muscular tone and gets right to the crucial questions that triggered its production. More focus on this would have made for a more robust piece.
Will honesty harm the long term loving relationship with his elderly father, bursting, in Drummond’s case, the safe bubble of ‘football and silence’? Does he choose cruelty of truth or kindness of lying?
Bone is a quiet, constrained rebel, ‘tight’ to Drummond’s ‘loose’, who survived the pernicious path of parties involving tea and games despite prayers, but he should have known that not many folk are recorded as having walked on water and one of these was the idiot savant Chancy Gardener played by Peter Sellars in the 1979 film Being There.
Some hymns were sung in recognisable style, especially the children’s favourite All Things Bright and Beautiful, whose reverently whispered verses are followed by what can pass for shouting in church, capturing the age- old Sunday School format. Yet to anyone who has never experienced church going in any form, such deliveries must seem strange, alien and even comic. Drummond’s parody of the hymn to ‘all things dull and dutiful / all things trite and terrible’ bitterly captures his changed world view.
Our Fathers feels like a catharsis for the participants, who at least were spared Gosse’s crushing legacy from his mother as a young boy, and could choose their own path in a different world, but it is disappointing as a piece of theatre.
25 – 28 October at 7.30pm