The problem with actor/playwright Martin McCormick’s autobiographical (or so he claims) South Bend, is that the minute he asks the audience to “trust me”, it has the opposite effect. You desperately want to believe this tall tale, but the nagging seed of doubt is sown in those two words. That said, there’s no doubt that this is precisely what McCormick wants to achieve in his theatrical road movie.
Obsessed since childhood with the US, he dreams of the world of Saved by the Bell, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Blossom and Seinfeld. When he eventually arrives for a semester at college in California, his every childhood dream is fulfilled. There he falls in love. Unfortunately, his time there is limited, and he has to return home. With promises from his love to visit him in Scotland ringing in his ear, he heads home.
When time passes, and the phone doesn’t ring, he heads to South Bend, Indiana to find his girl. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go to plan. On the receiving end of hostilities from his girlfriend’s step-mother, McCormick finds himself in a domestic version of Dante’s nine circles of hell.
How much of these antics are actually reflective of McCormick’s real experiences is questionable but the quality of the storytelling is just enough to entertain. McCormick is a better playwright than actor and his delivery does detract at times, it plays like someone playing the part of McCormick, rather than the person who is supposed to have experienced this madness.
Live foley artist David A. Pollock effectively provides the on-stage sound effects and a very Glaswegian voice of reason and Jess Chanlieu is chameleon-like playing all other characters.
South Bend is ultimately an undemanding, entertaining hour of theatre, but there’s a nagging feeling that it could have been so much more.
Image: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan