Nobody Will Ever Forgive Us
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 29 Nov
It’s hard to shake off the feeling that this final production in the National Theatre of Scotland’s series of Traverse Debuts is set in a bygone era. The story of a young man returning home from the seminary, disillusioned with Catholicism and disbelieving in God, much to the chagrin of his devout working-class mother, has the feel of something from the more orthodox 1950s. The presence of a hard-drinking father – whose love of Robert Burns, Frank Sinatra and socialist ideology is scant compensation for his reign of domestic violence – only reinforces the atmosphere of the mid-20th century when patriarchy and liberal ideology clashed.
Yet, Nobody Will Ever Forgive Us by Black Watch and The Thick of It actor Paul Higgins is set in modern-day Wishaw where people get jobs in Comet, take anti-depressants for their nerves and spend their leisure time in snooker halls. Perhaps this is why John Wark’s failed priest Patrick is reading a book called Escaping History. His is a family that, for all its intelligence and educational opportunities, has become weighed down by the inheritance of religion, class politics and gender expectations to such an extent that it can only turn in on itself.
It is not only history they want to escape. They want to flee the memory of a sister’s death, the crazy spiral of financial debt brought on by gambling and a family dynamic dependent on an unspoken policy of mutually assured destruction. Sadly, there is little chance of ridding themselves of any of it.
With such a desperate scenario, it’s a relief that Higgins’ play is, for the most part, a comedy. John Tiffany’s carefully paced and excellently acted production draws out all the gallows humour of the first-time writer’s combative dialogue. The weakness is a second half that is more of a coda than a genuine progression. With a coffin centre stage, the playwright seems to suggest death is the only way to liberate yourself from this dysfunctional family. It is a death that lacks the cathartic power of tragedy, however, offering only the demoralising emotion of despair and leaving the audience grimly entertained but also powerless.