Ian McDiarmid’s adaption of Andrew O’Hargan’s book for the stage revolves around a gay priest’s relocation to a small town in Scotland and a major scandal which unfolds whilst he is serving there. Much of the production is backed by unaccompanied song and for the most part, all the actors stay on stage – successfully serving to enhance the feeling of community within the town.

When Father David Anderton (McDiarmid) is drawn to helping out a pair of troublesome youths, there are a range of seemingly plausible forms of motivation behind it; he wants to make a difference, he needs personal fulfilment or as indicated by a touchingly powerful scene before the interval, he is attracted sexually to 15 year old Mark (played confidently but too much in line with a 20 year old). The second act promises much, and while it is well directed and the acting is strong, the writing just doesn’t probe enough, with the scenes too much of a jumbled mess.

Rather than draw the audience into supporting and sympathising with Anderton through a tediously laborious trial, McDiarmid’s writing puts Anderton in the dock in our minds – admirable enough but regrettably failing to bring a necessary emotion to the piece. Had he made greater reference to Anderton’s past and in particular love for deceased Liverpudlian Conor, this would have been achieved without compromising the discussion the play provokes. The great strength of Robert Bolt’s play “A Man for All Seasons” is not that we view it in debate as to whether Thomas More was right to make no comment about the Act of Supremacy, but because we are shown inside his mind, given full access to his life and thus become utterly committed ourselves to all that he believes in.

Ironically, McDiarmid does his utmost to convince us to sympathise with Anderton, as an actor, and this is undoubtedly to his credit. Along with Blythe Duff, who plays the Father’s cancer laden house maid, they bring an essential truth to the play. When Duff pleads to the court to have Anderton released without charge, I felt genuinely touched.

Despite this, the Donmar’s latest showing never really delivers its promise. It just doesn’t turn the screw when it could, and the final few scenes are both long winded and lacking any real purpose. They are not helped by Anderton’s mother (Colette O’Neil) looking somewhat suspiciously younger than him! It’s interesting enough to view, but like McDiarmid’s writing, offers us little more than that I’m afraid.

Reviews by John C Kennedy

The Blurb

A stage version by Ian McDiarmid from the novel by Andrew O'Hagan.