Theatre review: Soup

Mar 16 2010 | By More

Finn Den Hertog and John McColl talk things over Photo © Lesley Black

* * *

A Play, A Pie and A Pint at The Traverse
By Thom Dibdin
Soup is an extra on the menu as the Play, Pie and A Pint season of lunchtime theatre at the Traverse reaches the halfway stage. A tough and snappy little three hander, Soup shows – as did last week’s excellent Shattered Head – that the form can both tackle big issues but also do them with humour.

It doesn’t quite develop those themes as it might – and fudges an ending that demands rigorously precise timing and lighting, but in Natalie Ibu’s assured directorial hands, Ella Hickson’s flowing and pithy script gets a wonderfully naturalistic showing.

Finn Den Hertog is fantastic as Dan, a fourth year student who returns unexpectedly from university to his parents’ house on Easter Saturday. Hertog has great self-possession and ensures that the awkwardness of family life is ever present – without ever letting the production itself feel awkward.

As his mother Annie, a church minister who is obsessing with an all-night vigil she is about to preside over and her Easter Sunday sermon, Bridget McCann is the epitome of a busy, loving mother who wants what is best for her son – but still has her flock to look after too.

The previously hinted at situations of anxiety come into focus with the arrival of John McColl as James, Dan’s father. A film-critic for a broadsheet newspaper, it soon becomes clear that if he isn’t yet a pissed old hack, he intends to become one that evening, and that what ever the state of his inebriation, he is wilfully baffled by new technology.

The meat of Hickson’s script lies in the relationship between father and son and revelations which neither wants to make. James has been asked to give up writing for the paper and provide online content, while Dan clearly intends to pop the question to his girlfriend.

Where it works best is in the humour and surprise in the script, while the triangle of family tension is beautifully realised. The challenges facing the different characters are too uneven, however, to allow the deeper structure of the play to work as it might.

Annie’s battle with the creeping Americanisation of her ministry is not momentous enough – and certainly not the step change that confronts Dan and James. To be fair, there wouldn’t be enough room in the time available to get any deeper, but it does feel more like a minor inconvenience.

James’ troubles with new technology – and the use of that technology on stage – is best portrayed and opened up as an issue. It is more than the fear of the new, it is the exposure to a whole new world, a changed way of having relationships and the realisation that a simple, stable medium has become dynamic.

Dan’s big step is momentous, but never over-sensationalised. That he is not actually asking the right question – and the amount which the talking-but-never-really-communicating family have to learn from each other – is the numb of the play’s success. And its portrayal is Ibu’s.

A strong, though-provoking piece which annoyingly shows the limitations of the short-form, but which has some excellent performances.

Run continues to Saturday
Traverse Theatre website

A Play, A Pie and A Pint website

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