Geoffrey Beevers’s Middlemarch Trilogy shapes up into something special with its second instalment, The Doctor’s Story. While there were many aspects to admire in the first production, Dorothea’s Story [review here], some slightly fussy, knowing touches marred the overall effect of the adaptation for me. The Doctor’s Story retains the same kind of aesthetic and approach as the first production with swift scene transitions, minimal set, audience address and other Brechty business. But the overall tone is less arch and irony-filled and consequently more consistently absorbing. Fans of a certain well-regarded Mafia series might think of the production as the equivalent of The Godfather, Part II: a second part that proves totally compelling in its own right while also deepening and enriching the experience of the first.
The play’s focus is another problem marriage with its “hidden as well as evident troubles”. The studious doctor Tertius Lydgate is, like Dorothea, another of Eliot’s idealists and he arrives in Middlemarch with the desire to do “good work for [the town] and great work for the world.” But gradually Lydgate finds his principles and position compromised by the surprising complexities of Middlemarch society, first via his marriage to the solipsistic coquette Rosamond Vincey and then through his association with the banker Bulstrode.
Beevers’s adaptation dropped hints of the dramas occurring for Lydgate on the periphery of Dorothea’s story and it’s fascinating to see how he brings those to the fore here while relegating Dorothea to the sidelines for the most part. There’s a wonderful sense of life going on around the characters, with some of the first production’s scenes replayed from different vantage points. The detailed, supple work from the ensemble once again astounds, with the company contributing vivid performances in their main role/s and then transforming themselves into surly pub gossipers or squabbling committee members as required.
As the Lydgates, David Ricardo-Pearce and Niamh Walsh brilliantly convey the tensions of a marriage foundering on its partners contrasting temperaments. Rosamond’s move from perfect self-absorption to an awakening to the reality of other people in the great scene with Dorothea is charted especially movingly. Christopher Naylor is terrifically likeable as the vicar Farebrother, while Christopher Ettridge fleshes out the duplicitous, blackmailed Bulstrode and Liz Crowther does a subtle heart-breaker of a turn as his deluded wife. The result is a production that conveys, through the most minimal yet creative of means, the bustle and flow of a community and the intense private dilemmas and dramas playing out behind its doors.