Our Fathers review at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

The relationships between sons and fathers informs everything about Our Fathers, an intriguing first collaboration between Magnetic North and the Traverse Theatre.

An adaptation, of sorts, of Edmund Gosse’s 19th century book Father and Son about his relationship with his strict Plymouth Brethren father, Philip, it has as much to say about the relationships of its creators and performers – the atheists Nicholas Bone and Rob Drummond – with their own clergyman fathers.

It is co-directed with great flexibility by Bone and Ian Cameron, who incorporate Bone and Drummond’s very distinct theatrical styles.

Where Bone – acting here for the first time – has a tightly particular directing style with Magnetic North, Traverse associate Drummond is known for looser, interactive and often seemingly-improvised shows.

This contrast gives a natural flow to the scenes where Bone and Drummond play themselves, talking about their relationships and the book. Conversely, when picking out key passages of the book, Bone plays the increasingly troubled Edmund with Drummond visibly buttoning down as Philip, whose belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible compromised his own observations as a keen naturalist.

The plain, wooden walls of Karen Tennent’s set are reminiscent of non-conformist churches. Gosse’s naturalist’s equipment and drawings are laid out in such a way as to hint at religious iconography and the whole thing is intricately lit by Simon Wilkinson so as to heighten the religious overtones while shifting from Victorian study to seaside rock pool.

This is a clever, contemporary staging of a very wordy 19th century book, but on occasion it can appear flippant, where gravitas is intended.

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