Sometimes, the magic of theatre is in its simplest of moments…
On its opening night in the Boys School section of the Smock Alley Theatre, ‘Sophie, Ben & Other Problems’ takes solace in its stripped-back set, dressed down actors, and minimal production.
The audience meets doting couple, Sophie and Ben, (played by Cathleen Coyle and Conor Burke) who had met on a night out. In a flashback sequence, we learn how they bonded in the smoking area over their messed up family lives, love for the song ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love With You’ and all of the things that made them different.
The initial awkwardness of Ben, and the stubborn wariness of Sophie, allows for a hilarious episode of two people you’d never expect to get along somehow finding a way to connect to one another. It is the beautiful writing of Conor Burke that brings the relationship to life. The couple’s exchanges are always rooted in simplistic and relatable dialogue, proving how not all love stories in theatre have to be big, grand spectacles of romance. Sometimes, little really is more. The actors do a fantastic job of creating substance to these characters, and the audience is hooked throughout the set.
One thing the ‘Sophie, Ben & Other Problems’ could benefit from is tightening up on the consistency of the play’s concept. At the top of the show, they face the crowd and explained that they are to be the focus of a dissertation project that seeks to understand the millennial relationship. Whilst this successfully provides context as to why the dialogue is directed towards the audience throughout the performance, the study isn’t referred to again during the show.
This was a small pity as the idea of observing the modern romance through the lens of an academic study is something most people would find to be not just interesting and current, but very important. The message of how we as humans seek to connect in the modern era, despite the constant anxieties young people have around their careers, families, and mortality, is expertly put across. Referring back to this study throughout the show would have helped the story feel more concise. And allowed for some more incredible comedy!
For a short piece (the run time is just under an hour) ‘Sophie, Ben & Other Problems’, is sharp, funny and poignant. It is unabashedly quirky and the charisma of the shows shining performers are the cherries to the marvelous souflé of the writing.
‘Sophie, Ben & Othe Problems’ is playing in the Smock Alley until February 1st