Review – Be Near Me, Donmar Warehouse

Sunday 25 January 2009

be-near-meDear Phil

I hope you are having a nice time at your mother’s.

Strange that you should have to go and see her on the very weekend that I had tickets for  Be Near Me at the Donmar Warehouse. Sometimes I think  you don’t really like the theatre at all.

Or had someone perhaps tipped you off as to the fact that nothing happens in the entire first act (almost) of this two and a half hour play adapted by Ian McDiarmid from the novel by Andrew O’Hagan.

If so, why didn’t you tell me? I suppose you thought it would be funny.

Anyway, I ended up taking Neil. We had a nice chat before the show and he was very enthusiastic about the theatre and its origins as a form of debate in ancient Greece and how powerful it still is today – how amazing it is that a group of people come together in a room for a shared experience.

He didn’t mention anything on the subject after the show.

Anyway, did I mention that nothing happened for the first half of the play? Well, I say “nothing”; I’m sure you would have derived great excitement from seeing steaming lettuce soup consumed and real, live rhubarb-chopping (a first?); in the second act there was a steaming burgundy fish soup and the main character, Father David Anderton (McDiarmid), is a rather camp wine buff – I think you two would have got on quite well although, as it turns out, you would be a bit old for him.

You will also be interested to hear that the Donmar stage has been done out with a very nice parquet flooring although the back wall is now made of corrugated iron. It’s sort of Changing Rooms meets Scrapyard Challenge, if I may put it into terms you would understand.

I suppose I should tell you what it’s “about”, but I think the short answer would be “everything”. Certainly everything seemed to be touched on along the way – religion, the global economy, teenagers today, Scotchness, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, cancer, homosexuality and paedophilia. But I don’t think it was about any of these things. It was probably about something much deeper but I couldn’t tell you what it was.*

By the way, there was a park bench scene. I know your hackles rise whenever a park bench is carried onto a stage  but they used two chairs instead of an actual park bench so I think you would have approved.

They kept bringing on a rug and unrolling it onto the floor and then rolling it up again at the end of the scene. Perhaps when you are back in London we can sneak backstage and I’ll roll you up in the rug between scenes so you can make an appearance like Amanda Barrie in Carry On Cleo. That would liven things up.

To be fair, though, it was quite impressive when the chandelier crashed to the floor – much better than the lame attempt in Phantom.

In what little is left of your lifetime you are unlikely ever to see this play so I’ll tell you the plot which – when it eventually arrives in the last five minutes of Act One – amounts to the fact that during a booze and drug fuelled evening 60 year old Father Anderton plants a kiss on the cheek of the 15 year old schoolboy Mark (Richard Madden) before they pass out on the floor and are discovered by his housekeeper Mrs Poole (Blythe Duff) the next morning.

When the news eventually gets out, Anderton’s house is burnt down and he has to go to court to face charges of sexual assault of a minor.

It wasn’t very convincing, not least because if Richard Madden is 15 then I’m a Dutchman. But it was also a bit creepy because the audience’s loyalties are uncompromisingly assumed to lie with Anderton; indeed, it is written this way: Mark is just a bit of a tosser really. Perhaps it’s different in the book (“Was David wrong to see intelligence and tenderness in Mark? He was the only one who was looking”, it says in The Guardian‘s review. Well no-one else seemed to detect any such qualities in him.

blythe-duff-as-jackie-reid-in-taggartThere was some good acting. McDiarmid is, of course, magnificent. Neil and I also enjoyed  Blythe Duff as the housekeeper Mrs Poole. She played Jackie Reid in Taggart, apparently although I never watched that because of the accents. Interestingly, even the National Theatre of Scotland’s website notes that “This production of Be Near Me contains scenes, language and songs which may cause offence”. Well, I’d call it a dialect rather than a language, but yes. And songs, yes, songs are always offensive.**

Anyway, I know I said that I would pop round to yours to feed your pets, water your plants and switch your lights on to confuse the burglars but I’m afraid I’ve lost the will to live somewhat.

I hope you had a good weekend.



* According to the Donmar it is a compelling story about love, morality and regret.

** This does not apply to musicals, obviously.

20 Responses to “Review – Be Near Me, Donmar Warehouse”

  1. Uh-oh, somebody’s in trouble, wherever you are Phil I think you need to stay a bit longer?

    Another classic piece of writing there for you. Kudos Andrew! x

  2. Wait, does this mean the Donmar have now had two shows fail the Whingers in a row? Could hell be freezing over?

  3. A Clown Says:

    Thanks for an entertaining read, your site has now made me notice all the details that I think you will mention in your reviews. Rhubarb chopping was great, but I was quite worried that the fish stew in the nice Le Creuset pot was placed right on the table without a place mat.

    I loved the play incidentally, but that’s horses for courses innit.

  4. Waldorf Says:

    Phil obviously reads our blog more often than you do, we did try to warn you. Was interested to see what you would make of it – did anyone fall asleep at the Donmar?

  5. @ Helen. Shucks.

    @ Feigned. Shucks.

    @ Rogue. All their good stuff now at the Wyndhams. The Donmar now hosts their “B” list.

    @ A Clown. Yes! I felt VERY anxious about the lack of a table mat, too! I’m relieved that I’m not alone on this.

    @ Waldorf. You were unnecessarily kind, I feel.

  6. Abragante Says:

    “…if Richard Madden is 15 then I’m a Dutchman.”

    Perhaps they should have cast a woman in the role (cf Every Good Boy Deserves Favour). However I can see that this would change the entire meaning of the play!

  7. LaBrosse Says:

    I quite enjoyed this – I particularly liked having an unknown, wealthy, American lady asleep on my shoulder almost throughout.

  8. SuzieBee Says:

    “the lame attempt in Phantom” – ouch.

  9. Statler Says:

    “You were unnecessarily kind, I feel.”

    Well, if we’d said it was really bad you might not have gone, and where would the fun have been in that? There were enough nice touches in it for us to make it a worthwhile evening, but we always had serious doubts about its viability outside Scotland.

    PS The NTS’s Peer Gynt is heading your way and we really didn’t like it – you have been warned. Although in fairness everyone else seems to love it.

  10. Do it on the radio Says:

    Suggest how you would resolve the staging difficulties inherent in a production of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt…

  11. phaeton Says:

    As ever, loved it. Spot on about the rhubarb and pie – such small portions for a dinner party! Once it got past the interval I loved it though – bit like Moulin Rouge for people who can’t bear Nicole but rather like the prospect of quivering meditations on truth, beauty and love. And priests.

  12. Thank God. I read a bunch of the broadsheet critics on this and really worried that, apart from Rhonda Konig at the Independent, I was the only person who didn’t like it.

  13. oe444 Says:

    don’t believe the nay-sayers. ‘peer gynt’ is utterly brilliant. how do they solve the staging difficulties? go and see.

  14. Victoria Says:

    First half was slow and I didn’t feel at all sympthatic to the Father Anderton character. Not helped by the fact I was in the back row and couldn’t hear half of what he said so kept losing the plot Don’t know why he had such a quiet voice as I could hear the rest of the cast fine. I thought they taught actors to project!

    Second half much better. Started to get into it then. Thought Blythe Duff at Mrs Poole was really good and became more sympthactic to the Mike character who I didn’t like in the first half. Overall enjoyed it and worth going to see provided you gen up on the plot first.

  15. Suzie Bee Says:

    @ Do it on the radio: I love that play. Not Peer Gynt. The other one.

  16. Rev Stan Says:

    All the food on stage made me think of you Whingers.

  17. dylanwolf Says:

    I’ve just seen this at the Curve in Leicester. Open-mouthed aghastment at the Whingers! Be Near Me was the best theatre I’ve seen this year. Mind you, I love melancholia and eschew the bar (alcohol would be likely to induce suicidal tendencies). The tender descent of a flawed character – what do you want a green-skinned villain appearing in a puff of smoke?

  18. Pam Pollin Says:

    I too saw ‘Be Near Me’ at Curve. I was in the back row and might have found the dialect trying but the clever people at Curve had the electronic script running, so comprehension guaranteed, provided you had brought your spectacles! I thought it an excellent play, with an exceptionally good cast. Ian McDiarmid was superb and so was Blythe Duff and the two young actors, Helen Mallon and Richard Madden, were likeable and energetic. The singing was tuneful and a clever way to demonstrate the opposing Catholic and Protestant forces in the little Ayrshire town. We in England don’t have much idea how much bigotry still exists, even in small enclaves, in Scotland and Northern Ireland. I thought the play was subtle and intelligent and that Ian McDiamid is to be congratulated on his clever distillation of Andrew O’Hagan’s Booker-nominated novel.

  19. Hello Hello Says:

    If you didn’t understand it you are, in all honesty, an idiot.

    It’s not the fault of the script or the actors – it’s you.

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