The Donmar Warehouse not only has a fine reputation for producing excellent theatre in London, they also tour some of these productions, bringing their wares to the regions.
In the North West, The Lowry has housed Mark Ravenhill’s The Cut, Arthur Miller’s The Man Who Had All The Luck and Manuel Puig’s Kiss Of The Spiderwoman, amongst others.
Be Near Me is a joint venture between the Covent Garden venue and the National Theatre Of Scotland and stars the highly acclaimed actor Ian McDiarmid. On paper, a play which comes from such a wonderful pedigree as this one should impress and this tale of longing and belonging certainly does that.
Adapted by McDiarmid from the novel by Andrew O’Hagan, we follow the life of Father David Anderton (McDiarmid) as he tries to inspire the teenagers within his community. Through his efforts, the play explores themes of identity, war, race, faith, death and sexuality.
But, far from being a preachy play, this fascinating production never patronises the audience and manages to involve you right from the opening scene and this is down to the brilliant team effort of all those involved.
Father David’s character is deeply flawed, as his attempts to do good are not completely selfless. He is silently grieving for the loss of not only a friend but also himself. McDiarmid truly gets under the skin of this fractured soul and it is very hard to take your eyes off him as a result. His performance is stunning; a real masterclass in acting.
As his cleaner Mrs Poole, Blythe Duff also brings light and shade to her complex role, as this humble lady is more realistic than the priest and senses that he is about to fall from grace. Both Richard Madden and Helen Mallon are excellent as the two wayward teens that Father David tries to ’save.’
Of the supporting cast, Kathryn Howden stands out via her sheer versatility in numerous roles. But the entire cast give flawless performances. The narrative is puncuated by hymns sung by the cast throughout and this adds a sense of melancholy and authenticity to the proceedings.
The play itself asks many questions and McDiarmid’s adaptation does not always answer them, but the play benefits from this ambiguity.
John Tiffany’s direction is solid throughout and the first half completely flies by, as there is so much drama packed into one hour. The second half suffers slightly in comparision as a courtroom scene feels slightly hackneyed and out of place. Much of this element of the drama could have taken place off stage and the play would not have suffered.
Minor quibble aside; although this is not in the same league as the National Theatre of Scotland’s groundbreaking Blackwatch, Be Near Me is yet another example of how the Lowry’s relationship with some of the finest theatre companies, enhances the theatre-going experience in Salford.