by James Bridie.
5 Stars *****
The Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, Kensington, London SW10 9ED to 20 December.
Runs 2 hr 15 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652.
Review: William Russell 28 November.
Brilliant Bridie revival splendidly performed.
James Bridie was once a power in the theatre, but is long forgotten and this revival at the Finborough reveals just how good he was and is another addition to its record of rediscovering “lost” plays and playwrights.
It has not been performed in London since 1947 when it enjoyed a six month run, a solid run for the time, with Alistair Sim, a great exponent of Bridie’s work, playing the doctor. It has dated, and as Act one proceeds one seems to be watching one those plays about poisoner husbands and frightened wives which were once a staple of the West End stage. It is 1920 and Dr Cyril Angelus has a practice in Glasgow, has recruited a gauche young English doctor as his partner. Upstairs his mother in law is dying, while his wife flutters round the house clearly terrified of him. The tram lines of the plot seem set out clearly.
There is an insolent maid, a scrubber from the slums, whose relationship with the doctor is not what it should be, and an unhappy married patient who is foisted on the young man by Angelus, for whom she develops a passion which the naïve young man finds difficult to resist. He is also enthralled by his partner, submitting to his authority and seniority. Although he wonders at the diagnosis of the unseen mother in law’s illness, he signs the death certificate more or less against his better judgement. We have, more or less, been here before.
But in Act Two Bridie turns the tables completely. The expected does not happen. Instead things take a completely surprising surreal direction and the result is enthralling and exciting. Will the wife be killed? Will the young doctor be compromised beyond redemption? What will the maid – pregnant by her employer – do? What is the patient who has tried to seduce him up to?
Will Angelus get away with it?
Finding out makes for a splendid evening. David Rintoul slightly channels the ghost of Sim as Angelus – perhaps it is impossible to avoid so close was the actor to the work of the playwright – but there is more to his performance than that. He is charming, devious, and dangerous by turn. As the patsy, Dr George Johnson, Alex Bhat succumbs, squirms and is seduced, perfectly conjuring up a mouse caught in a trap struggling to escape.
There is also a lovely double turn from Malcolm Rennie as a pompous specialist brought in to confirm the diagnosis of the mother in law’s illness and a police inspector with a glorious Highland accent who arrives when you think it is all over. But all the playing is good. The Finborough’s decision to look again at Bridie is fully justified.
Dr George Johnson: Alex Bhat.
Dr Cyril Angelus: David Rintoul.
Miss Janet McAdam: Rosalind McAndrew.
Mrs Irene Corcoran: Lesley Harcourt.
Mrs Margaret Angelus: Vivien Heilbron.
Sir Gregory Butt: Malcolm Rennie.
Inspector MacIvor: Malcolm Rennie.
Director: Jenny Ogilvie.
Set & Costume Designer: Tina Torbey.
Sound Designer: Chris Drohan.
Lighting Designer: Marec Joyce.