Sophie, Ben and Other Problems – Smock Alley – Review
by Phoebe Moore
27 Jan – 1 Feb 2020
Sophie and Ben are a young couple in their twenties. We are the audience in a talk that they are giving about their relationship. They are the objects of a study. Their friend James is doing his dissertation on ‘Modern-day Millennial relationships’ and they have been asked to speak. They’re both “a bit nervous” about giving this talk. Akin to Noah Baumbach’s recent film Marriage Story, they begin to describe each other. They have written notes to help themselves along: We learn, among other things, that Ben never says ‘thank you’ to the bus driver and that Sophie likes pineapple on her pizza. She is the self-described ‘Sugar baby’ and “I’m the Sugar daddy” adds Ben, “just with no fucking money” Sophie reminds him, Ben readily agrees. Yes, they even finish each other’s sentences. Chemistry fizzles and the humour is sharp, self-deprecating and gently mocking. It’s clear that this is a couple very much in love despite their differences. We know these characters but that’s the point, It could be us!
Expertly switching between flashbacks and the present, this couple’s story is played out before our eyes. We watch their first painfully awkward conversation in a nightclub smoking area, Conor’s delight when he gets Sophie’s number; we cringe as we watch their fumbling lovemaking three months in. “I thought boys were meant to be sex-obsessed animals” a confused Sophie exclaims to the audience. This device of breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience allows us to become privy to the parts of a relationship not usually seen by an observer. We are voyeurs and just this once we manage to get the inside story. It reminds us that what we see is not always the whole truth. Sophie never puts filters on her Instagram, she’s really proud of that, Conor tells us. His dad says that everyone’s life looks better from the outside. Conor’s dad is a wise man. In a world where appearance is sometimes everything and what really counts is too often cast cruelly aside, this play serves as a poignant, tender and often hilarious reminder to listen, to love unconditionally and, of course, to laugh.
Chiming with the beautiful simplicity of the message, the props and set are minimal allowing the well-written dialogue and actors’ energy to speak for themselves. Although the script at times felt stretched and the dash between present and past sometimes discombobulating, Sophie, Ben and Other Problems makes you, for sixty delightful minutes, forget about your other problems.
Written by Conor Burke
Set and Lighting Design by Rowen Clarke