It’s a long time since I heard the excellent word “woggle”. But it pops up several times in Ian Bonar’s Be Prepared, on one occasion even getting an upgrade to the equally excellent “mega-woggle”. And if that’s not a word any of us expected to hear from a man making a speech at a funeral – well, let’s just say this isn’t exactly your traditional eulogy.
For one thing, the speaker – Tom, played by Bonar – never really met Mr Chambers, the man whose funeral he’s speaking at. For another, he’s clutching a small plastic keyboard and regularly breaks into song. And then there’s the minor detail that he keeps talking about his dad instead of Mr Chambers. As public speaking goes, it’s not a great effort – but for all its clumsiness, there’s a poignancy and heartfelt sincerity to both the words and the performance that turn this quirky little play into something quite powerful.
Inspired by Bonar’s own experience of losing his dad and then stumbling on his grandfather’s memoires, the story of how Tom comes to be at Mr Chambers’ funeral in the first place is revealed in fits and starts, sandwiched between reflections on death (and life) in general and memories of Tom’s dad in particular. As a result of his unusual “friendship” with the confused elderly man, Tom’s finally able to process and deal with his father’s recent death in a way that he never could before. He’s not over it, and nor should he be, but for the first time he’s able to remember his dad instead of repressing memories of him, and as he returns to his seat at the end of the play – still clutching his keyboard – there’s a sense that the clouds have begun to lift, just a little.
Directed by Rob Watt, Ian Bonar gives a very engaging and charmingly awkward performance, frequently losing his drift and stumbling off down increasingly random tangents (hence the mega-woggle). This unpolished, stream of consciousness approach – he discards his written notes straight away, and apologises constantly in very British fashion – is what makes the play both entertaining and believable, with Tom a character we like and can relate to. Mr Chambers, too, lives through his words (which are actually Bonar’s grandfather’s); as jumbled and unconventional as the storytelling may be, we do end up ultimately with a moving tribute to the man who, by sharing his own memories, helped Tom to do the same.
Be Prepared is a poignant and unexpectedly humorous portrayal of grief and how lost it can make us feel – but it’s also a reminder that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and a testament to the power of memory to bring us back from the brink. Highly recommended.
Be Prepared is at The Vaults until 11th February.
Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉