Dr Angelus at Finborough Theatre
It is easy to dismiss little-known Scottish playwright James Bridie’s Dr Angelus as a curio of its time. Filled with the choreographed characters and linear plot lines favoured by the era – until this year it was last performed in 1947 – the piece will no doubt anger the critics who feel we have moved beyond such things and who will decry it as outmoded and stale.
But Bridie’s lost play is in fact a classic, and highly timely. Telling the story of Glaswegian Doctor Angelus (David Rintoul), who is accused of murdering his wife and mother-in-law, and his apprentice Dr George Johnson (Alex Baht), who becomes inexplicably drawn into Angelus’s household, this is a classic tale of moral ambiguity and a thriller of its day. But it is also a tale about humanity, the utility of intellect, and the Manichaean choices that one can make when they hold life in their hands.
The stage is one of the most intimate and special as only the Finborough can pull off, which allows the piece to be fully realised and three-dimensional. The soliloquies are clearly relished and are carried out with aplomb. Malcolm Rennie, who makes a turn as both Sir Gregory Butt, distinguished but viciously aloof doyen of Glasgow’s physician elite, and Detective Inspector MacIvor, encapsulates the two sides of the drama. He is by turns the vigorous establishmentarian of the zeitgeist – a nailed-on archetype designed to be played with Wildean pizzazz – and the beacon for contemporary discussion about what constitutes humanity. His two characters are effectively the crux of the play, and it is no mean feat to make a secondary character so memorable.
The only really dated aspect is in some of the marginal and vaguely diminished female roles. Vivian Heilbron does a star turn as Mrs Angelus, a fascinating study of domestic oppression, but otherwise there is either the gobby housemaid in the form of Miss Janet McAdam (Rosalind McAndrew) or the lonely seductress in the case of Mrs Corcoran (Lesley Harcourt), though the actresses portray them excellently. There are also plenty of laughs in what is a genuinely dark tale.
Producer Robyn Bennett has endowed Dr Angelus with an edginess that would be expected of a Theatre503 alumnus; despite the play’s dusty history it would not feel out of place at the Edinburgh Fringe festival – and clearly Bridie’s drama is worthy of such a revival. In an era of rapid change and an increasingly homogenised theatre scene, an old-fashioned tale with a penetrating understanding and a rollicking plot may be just the ticket for the West End’s next big production.
Photo: Lidia Crisafulli
Dr Angelus is at Finborough Theatre from 27th November until 20th December, for further information or to book visit here.