Review: Be Near Me, Donmar

Thanks to the West End Whingers, I am now hyper-alert to the most random of details and there is much in this production to please them. Some excellent preparation and arranging of roses, some chopping of rhubarb, and onstage eating of lettuce soup, and then some fish stew and bread out of a lovely Le Creuset pot. However, there was no placemat for said pot, and so I did spend a couple of minutes worrying about the mark it would leave on the table.

But only for a couple of minutes, for this is a wonderful production which I found to be thoroughly engrossing. After a double whammy of “things that I hate” from the last couple of productions at the Donmar, namely verse plays and Nordic playwrights, this was the Donmar on top form. Adapted from Andrew O’Hagan’s novel, Be Near Me tells the story of a Oxbridge Catholic priest’s struggle to adapt to moving to a predominantly Protestant Scottish town.

Ian McDiarmid was superb in conveying the dislocated Father David, cloyingly ingratiating in his way into the lives of two teenagers at the expense of his parishioners, colleagues and housekeeper, the last of which played by Blythe Duff with great spirit: her withering comeback to an enquiry about a new hairstyle sent chills up the spine. Richard Madden and Helen Mallon also deserve a mention for delivering performances that capture teenage swagger in a very convincing and sometimes menacing way.

The device of keeping the company onstage throughout the show, providing a quasi-Greek chorus of sectarian songs is highly effective at maintaining the atmosphere in which Father David fails to find a comfortable medium to deal with his issues, and prefigure the ensuing catastrophe. The final scene with McDiarmid’s mellifluous tones and some stunning lighting was worth the ticket price alone, so I would highly recommend this to all.

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