At first glance, the family around which Paul Higgins’ new play Nobody Will Ever Forgive Us centres could be described as “dysfunctional”. With cigarettes, alcohol and antidepressants their constant diet and money problems rife in the lives of Mum, Dad, daughter Cath and eldest son Johnny, these are four people kept together by the need to survive rather than love.
As the play progresses, and following the introduction of younger son Pat, on leave from the seminary, the term dysfunctional seems less relevant, the word “normal” perhaps a better tag. While not implying that drink, drugs, theft and physical abuse come as standard in families across Scotland, the depiction of this small group’s foibles, mistakes and delusions are what make them recognisable to most members of the audience – who hasn’t made mistakes and regretted them years later? These characters feel like real people and not grotesques dreamt up for maximum impact.
The human need for belief plays a big part in the lives of all present, whether that’s in the healing powers of chemicals or in God. The latter is given a rough ride here, with Pat’s understanding of the bible at odds with what his mother holds dear: “Are all the Catholics wrong while you’re right?” she asks Pat at one point.
Errors and misjudgements also play a part in the story, with nobody truly faultless. As Dad, Gary Lewis is a portrait of frustration and pain, booze his anaesthetic from the life he has found himself leading. His speeches, threading quotations and sayings together into a tapestry of confused statements, are inspired, giving him an aura of authority that is dissipated by the harsh light of day.
While John Wark presents a suitably tortured Patrick, it’s Carmen Pieracinni as Cath who shines brightest after Lewis, her reactions and inflections never over the top.
Quite where the family go after the play ends may not be clear, but credit is due to the writer and cast for making the viewer want to find out.
Review by Jonathan Melville
They Will Never Forgive Us runs at the Traverse until Saturday.