Coming home

Actor/writer Ian McDiarmid and director John Tiffany talk to Yasmin Sulaiman about their adaptation of Andrew O'Hagan's Be Near Me

he story of a priest who stirs up a riot of anti- (‘atholic feeling in a Protestant Ayrshire town after a drunken fumble with a teenage boy might not instantly sound like it would travel well outside the west of Scotland or Ireland. But. since its opening week in Kilmarnock in January. the National Theatre of Scotland‘s production of Be Near Me >~ an adaptation of homegrown writer Andrew ()‘llagan‘s Booker longlisted noyel has been playing to packed audiences at the l)onmar Warehouse in London. The first collaboration between John 'l‘iffany. acclaimed director of (iregory Burke‘s Black Watch. and veteran Scottish actor Ian McDiarmid -— known to Star lliii's fans across the world as limperor l’alpatine returns to Scotland at the end of March. l)espite the longstanding relationship between ()‘llagan and Tiffany. it was .\lcl)iarmid who first took up the reins of the project. He wrote an adaptation in secret before tentatively revealing it to Tiffany just days after the director named it his book of the year in The Herald. .Vchiarmid says: '1 think O’Hagan is one of Britain's. not just Scotland‘s. finest writers and so I was eagerly awaiting his latest novel in 2006. Then. when I read it. I sort of felt it could be a play almost immediately and I really wanted to play the central character because he‘s so complicated and interesting.‘ And for Tiffany. working with McDiarmid was something of a realisation of a dream: ‘The idea of directing lan McDiarmid. who‘s been a hero of mine for years as both a brilliant actor and also as a theatre maker appealed instantly.‘

Based in the lictional Ayrshire town of l)algarnock. the play"s lucid representation of the region’s historic sectarian divide. coupled with its widespread unemployment. certainly rings true in today's Britain. '1 come from West Yorkshire. which has been ravaged by the death of heavy industry. in the same way that the fictional l)algarnock has.‘ Tiffany says. ‘So the idea of a tension between this community that’s suffered the tragedy of unemployment and this sense of community disappearing. I think that's very common anywhere.‘ .\lcl)iarmid adds: 'The reason that [the town] all get together and gang up on the poor priest although some people think he deserves all he gets is because in a sense they're looking for some kind of unity. They‘re looking for something that will pull them together and this. for a short period in time. does.~

It's this sense of universality that really marks lie .er Me's appeal. a quality that‘s likely to seal the success of this current tour and which. for McDiarmid. has made it all worthwhile. ‘What‘s been good —- and Andrew ()‘Hagan. yery generously. has been the lirst to say it - is that this is not just a book that's suddenly been adapted for the stage. it‘s a play in its own right.‘ he says. ‘But the most gratifying thing is that so far everyone says they‘ve been really moved by it and I think that's the thing that I most wanted to happen.’

Be Near Me, Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, Wed 25 Mar-Sat 4 Apr, then touring throughout Scofland.




* Northern Ballet Theatre: Swan Lake and Mixed Programme Inventive take on Tchaikovsky‘s best- known ballet, which transports the action to early 20th century New England. as well as a selection of classical and contemporary pieces from the company’s repertoire. Edinburgh Festival Theatre, until Sat 21 Mar.

It Who’s Afrald ol Vlrglnla Woolf? Absorbing production of Edward Albee's classic early 605 portrayal of white. middle class marriage as relentless battleground. with fine performances from the four- strong cast. See review, page 82. Dundee Rep, until Sat 21 Mar.

* Company Chordella: Lea Amoureux Kally Lloyd- Jones choregraphs this new work based on Angela Carter's short story 'The Lady of the House of Love'. See preview, page 82. Paisley Arts Centre, Fri 20 Mar, then touring.

* Ballet Lorent: Deelgner Body A rare chance to catch world-class dance company Ballet Lorent in their first incursion north of the border, with this new piece exploring the beauty and vulnerability of the body, featuring a specially commissioned score by ZovietzFrance. See preview, page 82. Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Sat 21 Mar.

* Curse of the Starvlng Class New production of Sam Shepard's black comic exploration of American family mores. Reviewed next issue. Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, Fri 20 Mar—Sat 1 1 Apr

* Be Near Me Ian McDiarmid's adaptation of Andrew O'Hagan's novel for National Theatre of Scotland comes home for a nationwide tour. See preview, left. Cit'zens‘ Theatre, Glasgow, Wed 25 Mar-Sat 4 Apr, then touring.

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