FEATURE LIST '
director. But he was always supportive and kind. and he was an extraordinarily solid presence at rehearsals.‘
At present Cairncross is taking the central role in one of Bridie‘s best-loved plays. Mr Bolfry. at Edinburgh‘s Lyceum Theatre. In both this and DrAnge/us. being presented at the Glasgow (.‘itizens'. Bridie explored his abiding theme of the role and purpose ofevil in man. In DrAnge/us he sails close to the wind. ironically (given his own profession). creating the fascinating figure of a thoroughly corrupt doctor. who poisons his wife and mother-in-law. and yet has a strange integrity about him. justifying his action through his need for freedom — an argument that Bridie usually dramatically endorsed. In Mr Bolfry he takes on another pillar of society — the Wee Free Church. In the Reverend Mc(‘rimmon's household. the reverend‘s high-spirited niece and two bored soldiers are flung together on a dreich and dreary Sunday afternoon. To while away the time they decide to conjur up the devil. A stranger appears. one ‘Mr Bolfry'. who challenges McCrimmon and knocks him off his perch ofself-righteousness. Cairncross plays the crusty McCrimmond. a difficult character
who must both appal and fascinate. and one that Cairncross first played 42 years ago in Liverpool.
'1 think the interest in the play is to see how the man changes. He starts very confident and sure of himself and the doctrine to which his church subscribes. But when he's faced with this devil. which he gradually comes to recognise as a part of himself that he has not acknowledged. then he becomesa bit more humble . . . . I think he‘s tremendously serious. He‘s allowed to have a point of view and however much one may disagree with him. he does remain human.’
The role was first played by Alastair Sim. for whom Bridie created many of his parts (including that of Doctor Angelus). Sim also played Mr Bolfry in a later production. which received short shrift from the acerbic critic Kenneth Tynan. who was less than ecstatic about the play: ‘lle just dismissed it.‘ recalls Cairncross. He said this is ducks quacking on a pond. or some such phrase - at that time I think he was amilitant atheist . . .‘
Cairncross. however. feels the play was remarkable for its time and still powerful now. 'I think. to put it in context. in 19-13 the war was still on. The result was not yet known. And the theatre did extraordinarily well during the war. but Bridie wrote plays far above the average West End commercial success. . . Ithink the theme of this play is the great war between Good and Evil which we tend to work out in our own terms. And I think this particular play was concerned with the idea that the devil will preach that the only thing that matters is yourself.‘
It‘s a theme that. as Cairncross points out. is all too relevant today — as is the clash between what he describes as ‘rebellious youth and crabbit old age.‘ After all the debate.
however. the play ends with the simple faith ofthe minister‘s wife. ‘Mrs McCrimmon I think represents a very practical side of human nature - and faith.‘ says Cairncross. 'There are these occasional people. and I‘ve met them. who have what I can only describe as a serene beliefin God. They‘re not troubled. argument does not sway them. misfortune doesn't trouble them. They do believe that there is a God and that his ultimate purpose is benign.‘
Quite where Bridie himselfstood in relation to all this is perhaps more difficult for the outsider to ascertain. as is just how optimistic or pessimistic he really was about human nature. There was certainly a deeply serious side to his writing as James Cairncross and Ronald Mavor hope to bring out in the excerpts from his work that make up their show Bridie Revisited during the Edinburgh Festival.
‘1 used to think it was an awful pity that he died at a time when morale in this country was rather low.” says Cairncross (Bridie died in 1951). ‘We were still exhausted by the war. He never lived long enough to see the kind ofupswing ofthe Macmillan years and the swinging '60s — he missed out on a time ofa certain amount of prosperity. Whether he went to his grave a happy man or not. I don't know. but the last play he wrote I don‘t think was a very hopeful play.‘
As one who lived through the changing face ofScottish theatre during Bridie’s time. Cairncross feels the amount he did for it was invaluable. imparting both practical opportunities and self-confidence among actors. ‘In later years I remember I‘d been working in Salisbury and had agreed to go back after working in Glasgow. And he said to me. ‘James. you‘ll be going back to the Salisbury Repertory Company. no doubt‘." And I said. Yes. And he said. ‘You’re a bloody fool.‘ He always wanted one to stay and work in Scotland.’
Cairncross feels there are many of Bridie‘s plays that rarely get an airing. that could valuany be redone now: ‘I wish someone would have the courage to do The Queens Comedy. I know it's flawed. but it‘s got a good message for today — it's an anti-war play. And there's a wonderful play called (iog and Magog about the poet McGonegal. I‘d love to see someone do that.‘ 1158—00)); runs at the Lyceum. Edinburgh from 24 June—16 July.
Dr A n g(_’_ll_l.8‘ runs at the ( 'itizens '. Glasgow until 25 June.
Qaphne Laureola runs in rep at Pit/oehry Festival Theatrefrom IOAug—4 ()(t.
The Holy runs at the Edinburgh Festi val from 15—2 7 A ug and front Brunton Theatre. Musselburgh from 2 9 A rig—3 Sept.
Bridie Revisited is presented at the Edinburgh Festival on 22 & 23 A ug. Ronald Mavor's book about his father. Dr Mavor and Mr Bridie. is published by Canongate on I () Nov. price £10. 95.
An exhibition about Bridie runs from 1 Nov 88—Feb 89 at the National Library of Scotland. Edinburgh.
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The List 2-1 June — 7 July 1988 9