Our Fathers, Traverse Theatre

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by guest critic Liam Rees

Think about your parents, or a parental figure. How have they impacted who you are now? Whether positive or negative some mark will inevitably and irrevocably remain.

Now consider the effect of growing up in a religious home, specifically as the child of a minister. The stereotypes that come to mind are either that they’ll dutifully keep the faith, join the ministry or violently rebel, like Nietzsche proclaiming ‘God is dead’ or worse, put those oratory skills to use in the theatre. Performers, and children of reverends, Rob Drummond and Nicholas Bone seem to exist somewhere in between the stereotypes.

The two make an endearingly mismatched pair, with Drummond’s eager talkativeness
counterbalanced by Bones measured contemplativeness. They piece their stories together with Edmund Gosse’s Victorian-era memoir “Father & Son: A Study of Two Temperaments”, centred around their crises of faith and their troubled relationships with their fathers. It’s a thought-provoking concept and the pair introduce a variety of ideas through some simple yet effective techniques, most significantly through their deft switching of roles in which each performer is the other’s father. It’s like staring into an infinity chamber as the cycle of life, death and tradition goes on as well as harking back to Gosse’s debate between creationism v. evolution.

However making a piece that depends so heavily on religion when approximately half the country claim to not be religious is a challenge. Nowadays, the creationism v. evolution debate is all but moot, rendering most of Gosse’s narrative a useful framing device rather than a compelling narrative. This problem also crops up when Drummond asks if he should baptise his son or not, in order to please his father despite being an atheist. On the night I saw it the answer was a fairly overwhelming ‘No’ which somewhat undermined the drama and conflict that had been driving his narrative.

On the other hand, Our Fathers doesn’t really feel like it’s about religion or faith but the difficulty of maintaining a relationship with someone who holds a fundamentally different worldview to yourself. Possibly the most compelling moments of the show arise when the performers recount the moments they realised their fathers aren’t all-powerful and these realisations themselves that represent their crisis of faith. Regardless of religion, we’ve all faced the realisation that our heroes are only human at some point in our lives. That’s what’s really at the heart of this contemplative and compassionate show.

Our Fathers runs through 28 October.

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