Our Fathers is a semi-autobiographical play written and directed by Rob Drummond and Nicholas Bone.
The play is built around Father & Son, a memoir charting 19th century poet Edmund Gosse’s relationship with his fundamentalist cleric father and his own journey to atheism. Drummond and Bone use the book to bring to life their own personal experiences as atheist sons of clergymen; Drummond’s father is a Church of Scotland minister and Bone is the son of a Bishop.
Our Fathers is highly personal, with recorded voiceovers from Reverend John Drummond and Rt. Reverend John Bone interspersed throughout. It also has a more universal appeal; the experiences recounted by Gosse are used as vehicles to explore broader themes, such as the relationship between child and parent, as well as matters of faith and the loss of a loved one.
The performance itself is made up of complex, successive layers of characterisation. Drummond and Bone played themselves playing Edmund Gosse and his father, switching from narration, to acting out excerpts from the book, to a more conversational tone. Alongside this there emerges a fascinating father-son dynamic between them.
This effect is achieved chiefly though contrasts, the most obvious being the disparities in physicality between Dummond and Bone; Drummond being tall and in his mid-thirties, whereas Bone is older and much slighter. This juxtaposition is played up through characterisation, the set and explicitly in the script. Drummond is portrayed as brash, headstrong and youthful, whereas Bone is a more austere and mildly spoken character. The chairs in which they sit emphasise this difference, with Bone’s being comically small.
Contrasts and divisions also run through the set, which is part Victorian study-cum-classroom and part scientific laboratory, and the style of performance. The continual switch between the solemn scenes from Gosse’s book and a more humorous, conversational tone is at first jarring and at times feel a little forced but works well to lighten the tone of the play and enables Bone and Drummond to go into more difficult areas, such as the belief of evolution versus fundamentalist Christianity, without becoming too bogged down.
Some of the stylistic choices in the lighting and set of Our Fathers felt a little heavy. The use of organ music during certain scenes was very effective, making the audience feel like the congregation in a church; but, at times, this jarrs with the modern music used to indicate a scene change to the present, and coupled with the voiceovers was overwhelming.
Overall, Our Fathers is a highly vulnerable performance. Through both their fathers’ voices and their own, it feels as though both men bare their souls in their entirety, making for a very intimate and touching performance.
Runs until 28 October
Photo credit: Mihaela Bodlovic