Our Fathers

It’s mildly amusing to see two grown men briefly falling into a childish bragging-match about their fathers—one a retired Church of Scotland minister, the other a former Bishop. Yet that rather sums up Our Fathers; this new collaboration between two atheist sons of the clergy—Nicholas Bone (Artistic Director of Magnetic North) and Rob Drummond (Traverse Associate Artist, and award-winning playwright and performer)—is at best mildly amusing, and mildly thought-provoking.

Father and Son is an exploration of Bone’s, Drummond’s and Edmund’s relationships with their fathers, not least the semi-public up-bringings they each had thanks to their father’s vocations

Bone and Drummond may be the only men on stage, but there’s a third non-believing son of the clergy in the mix; the 19th century author Edmund Gosse, whose memoir Father and Son explores his own evolving relationship with his fundamentalist preacher father Philip—a man who, while understanding science, believed in the Bible literally. Bishop Bone had recommended the volume to him—“I think you should read it, I think you’ll find it interesting.”—and Bone had, in turn, passed it on to Drummond, while wondering what his father had meant by bringing the book to his attention.

Father and Son is an exploration of Bone’s, Drummond’s and Edmund’s relationships with their fathers, not least the semi-public up-bringings they each had thanks to their father’s vocations. (One example: Drummond admits that his school mates regularly sung “Son of a Preacher Man” at him.) Gradually we realise that, although recordings of both men are played between scenes, Bone’s father is no longer with us, and that this particular atheist son somehow regrets never having “come out” to him as a non-believer. Had that been why Bishop Bone had given him Edmund’s book in the first place?

At one point Drummond goes as far as saying that Bone is “doing this show because you regret not having the conversation about the book”, which is mildly “meta” as we assumed some difference between the real men and their onstage personas. While the two men on stage are speedily and succinctly delineated—Bone the fastidious, “as-we-rehearsed” guy with the good-condition book, Drummond the more easy-going, over-sharer who writes notes in his copy, and demands to play Edmund at the last minute—their arguments about the show, and each other’s paternal relationships, simply feel “acted”.

Karen Tennent’s set successfully evokes the Victorian classroom, albeit with fascinatingly lit objects on small tables dotted around it, while Scott Tynholm’s music adds some real emotional depth, but Our Fathers is a show that, while intriguing and excellently staged, nevertheless feel mildly tricksy for the sake of it. It’s an entertaining 70-odd minutes, but there’s no real emotional or philosophical punch; dramatically-speaking, the conflict between belief and paternal relationships remains sadly unresolved.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Inspired by Edmund Gosse’s Victorian memoir about growing up in an evangelical Christian family, Our Fathers is a new play in which two atheist sons of clergymen are on a quest to find out how we disagree with someone we love.