Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Various dates until October 18
Reviewed by Mark Brown
If, like me, you are convinced that Scottish theatre is currently living in the closest thing it has ever had to a Renaissance, Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s 2014 summer season has been an intriguing one. Staging, in this second year of Scottish Homecoming, works exclusively by Scottish writers it has invited us to compare fine living playwrights, such as Liz Lochhead, with those some might call “dead masters”, like James Bridie, the author of its latest production, Mr Bolfry.
As many great dramatists, including Christopher Marlowe, Goethe and, more recently, Conor McPherson, have understood, nothing creates more dramatic tension in the theatre than the arrival of the Devil himself. So, indeed, does the demonic shape changer make his entrance at the end of the first act of Bridie’s 1943 play.
The Luciferian visitation (elicited by way of an ill-judged séance) is not made before the author has taken the opportunity to sketch for us a series of characters or archetypes (according to taste). We find ourselves in the manse of Mr McCrimmon, austere Wee Free minister of a West Highland parish. There we met, among others, Cohen (a free-thinking, atheistic Anglo-Jewish soldier) and Jean (McCrimmon’s niece, who is more worldly wise than the minister would wish, on account of her time in the moral cesspit that is London).
As an exploration of religious faith and the lack of it, the play is testament to Bridie’s erudition. As a sex comedy, it shows a 1940s restraint that would fail to make a Restoration playwright blush.
There are lovely performances all over the place, not least from Dougal Lee’s wonderfully swaggering, eponymous devil and Karen Fishwick’s forthright Jean. However, fun though it is at times, this somewhat leaden piece does nothing to convince me that Bridie should be restored to a revered position in Scottish theatre.
This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on August 31, 2014
© Mark Brown