As prestigious Scottish theatre line-ups go, this is up there with the best of them: National Theatre of Scotland presents John Blackwatch Tiffany directing Ian McDiarmid’s adaptation of acclaimed novelist Andrew O’Hagan’s recent book. It’s the kind of show you’ll go see no matter what the reviews are like, so forgive the following exercise in pointlessness.
Oxford-educated pastor David Anderton (McDiarmid) is moved to a fictional Ayrshire coastal town where his prestige, Englishness and wealth causes friction with the locals. Between his conversations with his outspoken housekeeper (Blythe Duff) and his attraction to 15 year old local boy Mark (Richard Madden), the enigma of Anderton’s character slowly starts to make sense. It all comes to a head when Anderton’s drunken advance on Mark is revealed to the town, resulting in a courtroom climax.
With the bible-bashing redneck long gone, it feels like reading the forum of yesteryear’s wilting newspaper.
There are two main problems with this adaptation. The first is that it sheds the novel’s non-linear structure, which illuminates Anderton’s present by intermittently switching back to his past, effectively utilising the old ‘we may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us’ concept. As a result, Anderton’s actions don’t make sense until the end, by which point he’s long established in our minds as a passive and uninteresting character.
The other problem is that some of it feels a little dated now. Penned in 2006, it’s not hard to see the influence of world events, mainly American foreign policy, on the novel; especially during a dinner scene in which the pastors and priests discuss the danger of foisting religious notions of good and evil onto world politics. It might have been a salient point when the book was hot off the presses, but now, with the bible-bashing redneck long gone, it feels like reading the forum of yesteryear’s wilting newspaper. They do throw in a “yes, we can” reference, but by that point it feels like a token. Which is a shame, because elsewhere the themes of economic depression, teenage-hedonism, communal scapegoating and national identity are explored with intelligence and insight, and Tiffany brings is all vividly to life. The acting is predictably solid, with McDiarmid, Madden and Duff proving standouts. Nothing close to a failure, then, but marginally disappointing given the talent involved.
Traverse Theatre, until Sat 18 Apr, then touring,