As piped organ music sets a reverential scene, writer-performer Rob Drummond circles the audience, asking “Can you remember any of the 10 Commandments?” One woman shouts out, “Adultery!” Drummond shoots back, sharp-as-a-tack, “Not now, I’m working”.
And so begins Our Fathers, a two-hander play written and performed by Rob Drummond and Nicholas Bone of Magnetic North. It loosely interweaves their personal narratives of being atheist sons with clergymen fathers, with that of fellow atheist Edmund Gosse’s 1907 memoir Father and Son, a reflection on how he broke away from his naturalist father following an upbringing in the Plymouth Brethren, a Protestant sect.
The set was perfect, being both multi-purpose and versatile, and owing much to turn-of-century Cabinets of Curiosity. It was an excellent example of how to combine modern technology with tradition using video projections and simple props, situating itself as plain enough to easily fit both the 19th century narrative of Gosse’s story, and the 20th century parish upbringing of Drummond and Bone. A particularly clever moment by lighting designer Simon Wilkinson turned the sandy-blonde faux wood floor into a beach engraved with the imprint of the waves.
The central conceit of the play is on both men’s inability to be honest with their fathers. Recently a parent himself, Drummond’s dilemma is about whether to baptise his child or not, and if not, how to explain this to his father. Bone, by contrast, was never able to tell his father that he was atheist, and this forms a regret that hangs over him throughout and manifests itself pathologically in his desire to perform as the child Edmund Gosse. Many contrasts between the characters are constantly reiterated, with Bone playing the straight, sensible one, and Drummond the bumbling impatient fool. This felt too contrived and was not always convincingly portrayed. The breaking of the fourth wall was established at the start of the play, but this failed to work as a sustained device and the way in which they pretended to argue throughout (“That’s not the way we rehearsed it!”) was a weak narrative device. With an issue so pertinent to both men’s lives, this play may have had more gravitas if the hammy tropes had been dropped and their own stories told with more candour.
Photos courtesy of Mihaela Bodlovic
For more on the programme at the Traverse Theatre click here.