Sophie, Ben and Other Problems made me want to immediately grab my phone and call someone close to me. It’s an endearing slice of life piece, ostensibly concerned with the ins and outs of Sophie and Ben’s relationship so far. I believe them. I believe them so hard. From the outset I want the absolute world for these millennial dorks. The acting is what really sells Sophie and Ben as a couple—the performances are nuanced, naturalistic and heart-warming. The script is resplendent too, to the point where I almost forget that the actor playing Ben is also the writer. I wonder if there’s any autobiographical element to this piece; his commitment to the dialogue is scintillating.
As far as the writing is concerned, there are some interesting framing devices. The fourth wall is immediately brought down, and a night-club smoking area is used as a motif for many subsequent scenes. It’s incredibly slick—there’s not a single slip up with tech, and some of the prop work is insane. Conor, the actor playing Ben, miraculously produces a bottle of Stella Artois from nowhere and I am still dumbfounded as to how. It’d be a disservice to Sophie, Ben and Other Problems to praise its comedic prowess; there’s more to be found than laughter. The intimacy of the whole show shifts in tone quite detectably as the show progresses. Sophie gives Ben a chance to speak on his own, citing issues surrounding his confidence. It turns out that Ben has had a rough upbringing, and this becomes a more central concern towards the end of the play. I can’t spoil anything about the ending, but what I can tell you is that it caught me by surprise, and I found myself feeling wounded. It’s a tonal about-face that comes out of nowhere, allowing for the equal development of each character. This was my only real caveat with Sophie, Ben and Other Problems—Ben is afforded a little more character development. The ending makes it clear why, but the run up to the play’s conclusion feels a little Ben-centric, glossing over Sophie’s story in favour of diving straight into a cross-section of their relationship.
Even now as I write this, though, I find it difficult to come up with anything else I didn’t like about Sophie, Ben and Other Problems. The imbalanced character development is such a minor gripe when posed against the great writing, totally engrossing naturalism and well-framed narrative twists and turns that frankly I’m inclined to ignore my own criticisms of the work. Go see it. You’ll probably cry a bit, I very nearly did. The After School Club are showing Sophie, Ben, and Other Problems at 14:50 from the 14th to the 19th, and then again from the 21st to the 27th in Assembly George Square, Studio Five. For endearing naturalism and great writing, it’s not to be missed.