Follow Us on Twitter

Entertaining Angels - Chichester 2006 (Review)

Entertaining Angels, Chichester

Review by David Munro

IF THE rest of the Chichester season is half as good as Entertaining Angels then we’re in for a good time!

If Penelope Keith were not already a well-loved leading actress then her performance in this play would have made her one. She plays the widow of a vicar who is welcoming his successor, a lady vicar and her husband.

Also present is her sister, a missionary who spends most of the first act mowing a lawn and in the second giving Miss Keith the chance to show what a superlative actress she is, and her daughter, a cynical and worldly lady who is concerned to protect her mother from the shocks and revelations that occur during the play.

The majority of these arise from the fact that Miss Keith’s husband, the late vicar, keeps making return visits to chat with her and discuss their lives together in an attempt to ascertain what went wrong in the marriage.

All this allows Miss Keith to run the gamut from pathos and rage to cynical and acid humour with a lot of real feeling in between. In her scenes with her dead husband, she displays by her body language and facial expression, as well as by word, how much she loved him and how she regretted the coolness between them which had developed in the latter years of the marriage as he felt unable to confide in her.

Her scenes with the living are laced with acid wit and humour and she shows that there is still a lot of life (and the vicar’s wife) left in her.

As her sister, Polly Adams is an admirable match for her and their scenes together crackle with the animosity of siblings, which lurks beneath the surface of their relationship.

Her part is, by virtue of the plot, subordinated to Miss Keith’s but nonetheless she gives as good as she gets and subtly conveys that in her own way she is as much of a character as her sister and that, had things been different and their roles reversed, she would have become a vicar’s wife very similar to her sister; a lovely and worthwhile performance.

Benjamin Whitrow, as the late incumbent, shows that the other world has changed him very little and he drifts in and out of the play giving a more pragmatic meaning to the soubriquet “unworldly vicar”. It is a gentle and charming performance which again gives Miss Keith every chance to score dramatic points, which she seizes with both hands.

Her daughter, Jo, as played by Abigail Thaw, seems rather out of place in the household, her fondness of her mother is tinged with exasperation and Miss Thaw well portrays a woman hard-bitten, but nonetheless sincere in her feelings.

As the lady vicar and her husband, Caroline Harper and Michael Lumsden seem merely to be there to push the plot along. Nonetheless, they both do what they can with their characters and certainly do not let down the side with their acting skills.

Mr Everett has written a well constructed and dramatic but poignant play which nowadays will be dismissed as old fashioned. “None the worse for that,” I say, especially if it gives artists of the calibre of Miss Keith a chance to exercise her skills.

Alan Strachan’s unobtrusive direction moves the action smoothly along on Paul Farnsworth’s scenic Vicarage garden which neatly becomes a river bank when required.

I think all this makes it clear that I had a good evening in the theatre and I hope some management has the sense to snap the entire production up for London.

Whether they do or not, it would still be worth your while to go to Chichester to savour, in pleasant surroundings, the pleasure that only a good play with a good cast can give you.

Entertaining Angels by Richard Everett.
Directed by Alan Strachan.
Designer – Paul Farnsworth.
Lighting – Jason Taylor.
Sound – Sue Ayliff.
Composer – Mathew Scott.

CAST: Penelope Keith; Benjamin Whitbrow; Polly Adams; Caroline Harker; Abigail Thaw; Michael Lumsden.
Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 6AP.
May 5 –27, 2006. Evenings: 7.30pm/Mat. Weds or Thurs. & Sat. 2pm.
Box Office: 01234 781312.