by James Bridie.
Pitlochry Festival Theatre In rep to 12 October 2011.
8pm 29 Sept, 4, 12 Oct. Mat 2pm 5 Oct.
Runs: 2hr 50min One interval.
Tickets: 01796 484626.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 September.
Murder most enjoyable in a tomb-like room.
A doctor by day (under his own name Osborne Henry Mavor), James Bridie virtually founded Scottish drama. From the late 1920s till he died in 1951 he was prolific, also helping create Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre.
Bridie drew on angels, devils and classical myths for his plays. Despite his name, Dr Angelus is from the diabolical tendency, something that suffuses Ken Alexander’s impressive Pitlochry revival.
The 1947 play is set post-World War I, but keeps – certainly in Charles Cusick Smith’s dominant design – the flavour of the 1830s, when a Dr Pritchard killed-off his mother-in-law and wife. The play is hardly a conventional murder story. Alan Steele brings a lurid Gothic quality to Angelus; his naïve young English associate Dr Johnson, commenting on Angelus’ kindness and help, must be the only person in the theatre not to see what Steele’s intense, grinning medic is up to.
The play has strengths and deficiencies. Alexander plays the full gothic card in Johnson’s nightmare, induced by the alcohol Angelus has plied him with, as walls evaporate and portraits come to judgmental life (the scene apparently, was an afterthought by Bridie).
Less happy is the sudden convenient discovery of Angelus as amateur pugilist, and his long exposition of his reasons for murder to the unconscious Johnson, revealing a Raskolnikov-like arrogance.
The women do well the little they are given; Shirley Darroch’s sluttish maid, up-to-no-good with the doctor, recalls the equivalent character in Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight, as does the late-arriving, cheerily confident detective. Dougal Lee is clear he wants his man, and only his man, schooling Johnson against self-accusation.
Robin Harvey Edwards is a pompously self-righteous medical bigwig, Amanda Gordon quietly appropriate as the female spoke in Angelus’ wheel. Sandy Batchelor has all the naivety one could wish, and if Steele doesn’t quite have the natural lugubriousness Bridie regular Alastair Sim must originally have provided, he comes close.
It may be the black designs, at once spacious and constricting, apparently solid yet actually insubstantial, that are especially memorable, but Alexander’s production overall is a reminder why Scotland should be glad to have its theatre in the hills.
Dr Johnson: Sandy Batchelor.
Dr Angelus: Alan Steele.
Jeanie: Shirley Darroch.
Mrs Corcoran: Amanda Gordon.
Sir Gregory Butt: Robin Harvey Edwards.
Mrs Angelus: Helen Logan.
Inspector MacIvor: Dougal Lee.
Policeman: Chris Vincent.
Mrs Taylor: Clare Richards.
Director: Ken Alexander.
Designer/Costume: Charles Cusick Smith.
Lighting: Ace McCarron.
Associate Lighting: Kate Bonney.