When the curtain rose at the beginning of the play several people around me gasped at the unusual set. For here designer Paul Farnworth had created the quintessential English Vicarage garden, complete with potting shed and stream full with actual water. This is a glimpse into rural Middle England and seemed the perfect setting for an actress (Penelope Keith) that has based a successful career on playing the archetypal English housewife. In Entertaining Angels we find the recently widowed Grace (Keith) out in the garden contemplating life without her husband (the Vicar) of the last 40 years.
She is set to vacate the house so the new Vicar can move in and her family have come to stay until she is ready to leave. Her daughter Jo (Carolyn Backhouse) is a Psychologist with issues of her own and her sister Ruth (Polly Adams) is a missionary from Uganda who holds a dark secret that becomes the ammunition for family feuding much later.
As the play progresses we come to see the significance of the stream running through the bottom of the garden that seems to hold as many secrets as the individuals themselves and also helps to provide the backdrop for the many unfolding scenes which help to explain the lies and deceit. The way the stream essentially provided a second set was extremely clever design and allowed the characters to show us the symbolism of the flowing water and its religious undertones.
Claudia Elmhirst (Sarah) gave a good account of herself as the next resident of the house with but Carolyn Backhouse seemed a little unconvincing at times. Penelope Keith and Benjamin Whitrow (her deceased husband Bardolph) were both very good and utterly convincing in their roles but the show was really stolen by Polly Adams who was brilliant in the portrayal of the anguished sister.
At times especially during the slow moving first half of the play it seemed the audience was too ready to laugh along with Keith, sometimes even at inappropriate moments as I think her fans over anticipated the wit and one liners before they were delivered. There were some very funny lines during the first half but this play was quite a sombre affair with many hidden themes. That said it cheered itself up at the end and allowed us to reflect on the issues and to contemplate how cleverly written Entertaining Angels is.
Entertaining Angels runs until Sat 10th Oct