Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Entertaining Angels - Chichester Festival Theatre

Entertaining Angels
Writer: Richard Everett
Director: Alan Strachan
Reviewer David Griffiths

First presented at Chichester festival theatre on May 9th 2006, this current touring production of Entertaining Angels stops off for a week in its spiritual home.A crisp and witty beginning hinting at a light hearted evening develops a much moodier edge as the story unfolds. By the end one was left wondering quite how to define it.

Grace played by the immaculate Penelope Keith is the central character, unless of course you include the ghost of her former husband Bardy (Benjamin Whitrow). She is struggling to come to terms with his untimely death and is being assisted in the process despite her best efforts by her missionary sister Ruth (Polly Adams) and her daughter Jo (Carolyn Backhouse). Grace's agitation at these arrangements appears to be centred on the arrival of the new vicar (Claudia Elmhirst) and the necessity of her leaving her beloved vicarage.

However we are soon aware that much stronger forces are at work and all parties by the conclusion have gone through a period of pain and soul searching. Saying any more would give away the central theme but despite some great comedy moments don't attend if you are expecting an evening of Penelope Keith doing what she does so well. This one definitely has a dark edge to it.

There's no doubt that the audience were assisted in their desire to listen in on what was unfolding by a straightforward but clever set design by Paul Farnsworth. Whilst I was fortunate to be seated near to the stage and couldn't help feeling that some of the audience may have struggled to hear all the dialogue despite the theatre's good acoustics.

Much as I tried to avoid it I found myself focussing on the performances of the small cast and couldn't escape the conclusion that experience in this case is all. Penelope Keith and Benjamin Whitrow ably supported by the eccentric character of Polly Adams were so polished and utterly believable. One could easily imagine a lifetime of banter between Grace and Bardy and Ruth's brand of missionary eccentricity.

However the characters of the daughter and new vicar were a little less believable and I came away with the feeling that they were actually trying too hard to match their illustrious colleagues. Overall it was an interesting evening and worthwhile for some fine performances but I concluded that the humour and anger in this play at times made uneasy bedfellows.

runs until Sat 7th Nov
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