Be Near Me
You can see what attracted Ian McDiarmid to Andrew O’Hagan’s novel Be Near Me. The tale of a cultured, flawed priest who takes over a small parish in a stagnating Ayrshire community, becomes enchanted by a shrewd but low-achieving 15-year-old boy and crosses a line that results in the town mobilising against him, has brought the veteran actor and theatre maker a plumb role as well as a scenario rich in ideas about culture, class and community.
McDiarmid’s nuanced performance makes no attempt to shy away from Father David’s arrogance and hubris as well as his obvious compassion and vulnerability. The pleasures of the first act are largely derived from the culture clash between the priest and the strutting, sassy teenagers he befriends, yet, while the priest’s association with Mark (Richard Madden) is the catalyst for the drama of the second act, it’s in the relationship between Father David and his feisty, cancer-stricken housekeeper Mrs Poole (Blythe Duff) that the play’s major theme of faith undermined by human fallibility is brought most poignantly to the fore. McDiarmid’s adaptation, while nicely structured and not overly reverential, is not without its flaws. As a cultured Englishman and suppressed homosexual Father David’s outsider status is self-evident – but this point is repeatedly rammed home, while certain themes, such as the inconsistencies of the Scots’ canny self-image are dealt with in clumsy moments of exposition. Still, this is an intelligent, occasionally moving, provocative night in the theatre.
Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 4 Apr, then touring