Finborough Theatre, London (****)
What a titan was James Bridie aka Osborne Henry Mavor, doctor and writer, co-founder of Glasgow Citz and prime mover in the launch of the Edinburgh Festival as well as a driving force in the establishment of the Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.
Like his medical Russian counterpart, Chekhov, Bridie seems to have put his knowledge to fascinatingly other use when it came to also studying the psychological as well as physical aberrations of human behaviour.
In Dr Angelus, written in 1947 but set in 1920s Glasgow, he starts off delicately enough producing a seemingly – and to us now faintly old fashioned – drawing-room comedy reminiscent of, say, an earlier version of Dr Finlay!
But golly, by the end, he’s turned it into a cracking portrait of psychopathic evil, his central character a Nietzschean protagonist who defends himself by claiming to be above mere mortals, who must fulfil his individual potential, no matter what.
It’s a terrific climaxing set piece, played to the hilt by David Rintoul as the quack, eccentric Dr Angelus, an elderly doctor who takes a recently qualified younger man, George Johnson under his wing, for ulterior not to sinister motives.
But that’s not all. Dr Angelus is not just a study in moral turpitude regarding a wife and mother-in-law!. Like Patrick Hamilton’s earlier Gaslight (1938), it shows – and as with the recent tv thriller, The Missing – the extent and manipulative charm of a man slowly poisoning his nearest and dearest before transforming itself gleefully as in J B Priestley’s An Inspector Calls (1945) into a tale of philosophical and moral redemption – this latter again played with a delicious sense of relish by Malcolm Rennie.
Having played a senior Consultant earlier in the play with all the pomposity befitting his character, Sir Gregory Butt, Rennie returns as Inspector MacIvor with a gleam in the eye and a Highland accent that exudes wisdom and mischief in equal measure.
A performance to treasure, Jenny Ogilvie’s spirited production, a marvel of atmosphere in the tiny Finborough auditorium, is also memorable not least for Alex Bhat’s delightful portrait of honour-put-to-the-test in young English-trained George Johnson’s susceptibility to Dr Angelus’ guilt-tripping charms.
Ogilvie and the Finborough’s first revival in seventy years is fully justified. What a pertinent precursor of a play it turns out to be in the light of awful similar criminal cases of mental torture that have come to light in this country and elsewhere in recent years.
Another golden oldie reclaimed.
Dr Angelus runs at the Finborough Theatre to Dec 20, 2016
Review first published on this site, Dec 6, 2016
By James Bridie
Dr George Johnson: Alex Bhat
Dr Cyril Angelus: David Rintoul
Miss Janet McAdam: Rosalind McAndrew
Mrs Irene Corcoran: Lesley Harcourt
Mrs Margaret Angelus: Vivien Heilbron
Sir Gregory Butt: Malcolm Rennie
Inspector McIvor: Malcolm Rennie
Director: Jenny Ogilvie
Set and Costume Designer: Tina Torbey
Sound Designer: Chris Drohan
Lighting Designer: Marec Joyce
The action takes place in the consulting room of the house of Dr Angelus, Glasgow, 1920
Presented by Robyn Bennett in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre
First perf of this production at the Finborough Theatre, London, Nov 27, 2016