Be Prepared tells of Tom’s memories of his father as he slowly comes to terms with his death, a brave one-man-show by writer Ian Bonar and based on his own personal experience.  It is set within the framework of a Quaker funeral of a man named Matthew Chambers, whom he hardly knew. The only link between the two men is the fact that Chambers used to mistakenly phone Tom’s number when meaning to phone the funeral home, to discuss the funeral arrangements for his wife who ‘rolled off a cliff’ in a car.  This one wrong digit becomes the reason why they repeatedly speak to each other, and in turn the reason why Tom attends the funeral.

Vault Festival 2018 Be Prepared

Ian Bonar (image courtesy of The Other Richard)

Tom first gets up from a seat in the audience to say a few words about the man he never really knew and, awkwardly at first, plays tunes on his portable keyboard, which he carries around the stage as he goes. This can feel uncomfortable, and partly is supposed to, but in this space at the VAULT Festival it can also be hard to hear what is happening. The organ-playing is used too much. When he plays Venus or Yesterday, there are reasons for it and a tragi-comic effect is derived; but when he keeps on singing It Fits Like A Dream about the Aquascutum suit he has bought for the funeral, just like the one his dad was buried in, the atonal singing would be more effective if it were briefer.

Tom was a boy scout (hence the Be Prepared of the title), and remembers his dad making the woggles for all the local scout packs.

Not just any old woggle, he even made mega woggles!

The phrase is agreeable to the ear, but it is clear from early on that Tom does not know how to deal with his own grief,

“My Dad has died and I’m fine”.

Then he admits that he tried to forget the day his dad died. The difficulty in remembering his dad properly is an important aspect to Tom. He appears vexed not to be able to recall his father by that most evocative of senses – smell. As that particular smell memory returns to him towards the end of the play, you believe that he is beginning to turn the corner in his trauma. It must be healing to talk about his father, especially within the context of another man’s funeral.

Vault Festival 2018 Be Prepared

Ian Bonar (image courtesy of The Other Richard)

Bonar delivers the piece with passion and empathy. It’s an intimate room and he manages to look us clearly in the eye while asking rhetorical questions, which gives a great directness. However, the overly-complicated multi-layering of funerals, with added flashbacks to the memories and knowledge of two different, now deceased men, dilutes the meaning somehow. Bonar is keen to tackle the real pain of dementia, when people ‘stop being themselves’; he then speaks out as the old man Chambers, voicing his confused memories about experiences during the war, meeting his wife, the injuries and post-traumatic after-effects. But after a while, it is not clear which memories belong to whom.

Be Prepared does have its touching moments, unsurprising given the personal significance to Bonar. But with a simpler structure, this man’s story of his grief at the death of his father, and the start of his slow road to recovery, could be more powerful.

 

 

★★☆☆☆

Be Prepared ran as part of the VAULT Festival. For further information, please visit the venue website.