by James Bridie.
The Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED in repertoire to 15 July 1017.
Sun, Môn & Tues 7.30 pm. Mat Tues 2pm.
Runs 2hr 30 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652
Review: William Russell 26 June.
A splendid story of failure and redemption
The Finborough, having rescued James Bridie from oblivion with its production of Dr Angelus, has turned to his last play, Mr Gillie. Not seen in London since 1950, when it enjoyed a successful West End run, and in Scotland since 1984, it is moving a study in failure and eternal optimism, about a teacher who believes all his ducklings are swans. In a way it is the other side of Emlyn Williams’ The Corn is Green where the inspiring teacher did have a swan. Williams is, of course, another forgotten playwright “rescued” by the Finborough.
Bridie’s play still works brilliantly in spite of problems some of the cast have with accents and one performance, so powerful and over the top, it upsets the balance of the drama.
The scene is a small Scottish mining town called Crult in 1950. Mr Gillie – a deeply felt performance by Andy Secombe – is the sole teacher at the small junior secondary school which, given the Scottish educational set up at the time, exists to equip the boys to go down the pit like their and the girls to get married.
Gillie, a failed writer, a dreamer, believes they deserve better, that his ducklings can be swans – against all the evidence it has to be said. The play starts in surreal fashion.Gillie has been killed by a pantechnicon while moving from his schoolhouse home – he has lost his job – and the procurator fiscal is putting the case for his after life to a heavenly judge.
Gillie’s favourite is a boy called Tom who, he thinks, has the talent to become a playwright. Tom, it becomes clear, is not really interested and is more concerned about Nelly, the daughter of the local doctor, a widower too fond of the drink, who sees her as his housekeeper.
He offers to help Tom get to London where he has contacts. Then Tom springs a surprise – he and Nelly are married and are going anyway – which they do after a furious row with her father which involves Gillie, the local minister and the long suffering Mrs Gillie who knows only too well what her husband is like. The minister makes clear Gillie’s job is on the line, the couple elope and six months later return. They have found success, but not the success Gillie dreamt of them finding.
As Mrs Gillie Emma D’Inverno gives an endearing and warm performance, a woman who loves her husband and knows his weaknesses. She also gets the accent right, but coming from Motherwell that is no surprise.
The problem performance is that of Malcolm Rennie as Dr Watson. Rennie is a big man, has an overwhelming stage presence and in this small theatre he crushes all around him, especially Andy Secombe’s amiable Gillie who is the man we should be focusing on. Director Jenny Eastop really needs to calm him down, make him acquire some of the reserve shown by David Bannerman as the pompous, chilly minister who holds Gillie’s future in his hands. Neither Caitlin Fielding a Nelly nor Andrew Casanave Pin as Tom, while fine as young persons who have hidden shallows, convince as the product of a 1950s Scottish mining town.
But that said all credit to the theatre for reviving the play, rescuing Bridie from oblivion for a little while. As for the judge’s verdict – it is worth waiting for. The four stars are for a play, which does not deserve to be forgotten, but for this production I would give one less.
Judge: Drew Paterson.
Procurator: Ross Dunmore.
Mr Gillie: Andy Secombe.
Tom Donnelly: Andrew Cazanave Pin.
Mrs Gillie: Emma D’Inverno.
Dr Watson: Malcolm Rennie.
Nelly Watson: Caitlin Fielding.
Mr Gibb: David Bannerman.
Director: Jenny Eastop.
Set & Costume Designer: Anna Yates.
Lighting Designer: Eren Celikdemir.