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The Pool of Bethesda


Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

Matters of life and death are an everyday experience for Daniel Pearce, the doctor at the centre of Allan Cubitt’s little-seen 1991 play, in which the good doctor must face up to his own mortality. As all the women in his life – his lover, Jane, sister, Ruth and nurse, Kate – flock to his bedside, Pearce falls down a Hogarthian rabbit hole inspired by the painting that hangs on the stairwell of St Bart’s Hospital, and which gives the play its title. The delirium that ensues throws up a vivid scenario in which Pearce poses as Christ for Hogarth’s painting, while his real-life loved ones are reinvented as a parade of eighteenth century good-time girls and fops. It takes more earthbound associations with a bottle of Polish vodka provided by Callum Douglas’ hospital porter Simon and a meeting with a former patient, however, to put Pearce’s priorities into harsh perspective.

The play marked the first sighting of Cubitt, who rapidly moved into television, penning Prime Suspect 2. He is best known these days for creating the Gillian Anderson-led psychological cop drama, The Fall. Perhaps tellingly, The Pool of Bethesda bears a superficial, if non-musical resemblance to Dennis Potter’s hospital-set TV fantasia, The Singing Detective, which appeared five years before Cubitt’s play.

Mark Thomson’s production is performed by final year BA acting students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, who get to grips with a heap of first-world grown-up stuff, which they play with a steely intelligence. Both Edward Soper as Pearce and Paula Nugent as Jane are unafraid to heighten their characters flaws as much as their virtues in a work where all of the women seem biblically devoted to Pearce in a dramatic think-piece on faith, healing, love and loss.

The Herald, May 21st 2018

ends

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