Be Near Me, a joint production between the National Theatre of Scotland and the Donmar Warehouse reached Perth last week.
Ian McDiarmid adapted this from Andrew O’ Hagan’s book, and he also starred in this disturbing piece. The story, set in a sectarian west coast community is about Father David Anderton, a very English, Catholic priest, fond of wine, classical music …….. and the odd young boy.
Anderton, for ever scarred by the death of a close friend, Conor, in a car crash while they were at University in Oxford, sought refuge in the Church. A good administrator, but poor priest, he was taken on reluctantly by the Glasgow Bishop only because he was intelligent, and they were short of priests. In what was a rather improbable series of errors of judgement, he got a little too friendly with a group of difficult teenagers, including 15 year old Mark. Mark ended up at the rectory, and after drink and drugs were taken, Anderton planted a kiss on the boy’s lips.
The wider community was well represented by the rest of the actors, mostly present onstage throughout. In a strong cast, Blythe Duff gave was particularly outstanding as Mrs Poole, Anderton’s housekeeper. Collette O’Neill played Anderton’s mother – bright, old and wise, and still churning out her books with plenty of sex included. There was some excellent singing, which under John Tiffany’s direction, added much to the drama.
But ultimately, this was not a comfortable play. The very English, camp Catholic priest was very much at odds with Ayrshire working class community. Anderton reminded me of the English Colonel in Tunes of Glory. And the sectarianism was present from the old down to the young. Anderton held very different views to his peers, which we saw demonstrated in a wonderful dinner party scene.
In the end, Anderton was a lost man – he lost his job and had to do community service, but he lost his way in life: he was challenged about what he had achieved in his church career not only by the young teenagers, but by his agnostic mother. Ian McDiarmid gave a very convincing performance, even if what we were being asked to believe was less so at times.
And nice to see Perth Theatre very busy, and to see a good sprinkling of other actors and a director in the audience, which is always a good sign.
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