Entertaining Angels is enjoying somewhat of a revival. After a successful UK run in 2009, Capetonians are fortunate to experience this production, currently showing at Theatre on the Bay, before it proceeds to Israel later this year.
London West End director Richard Digby Day spins a stirring take on renowned writer Richard Everett’s masterpiece, accentuated with an eminent cast. Everett seems to employ a fine balance between entertainment and anthropology, endlessly fascinated by the competitive tensions that govern the way in which human beings respond to one another.
Grace is a disillusioned matriarch recently widowed in remote England – a wretched and cantankerous woman finally morphing into her own after many years of submission as the dutiful wife. Often appearing to be in a world of her own by her unwanted guests, she ‘speaks’ to her departed husband Bardolph. Her sister Ruth, a gardening enthusiast who is taking some time off from her missionary work in Uganda, is the most prominent victim of Grace’s wry humor. Ruth harbours a dark secret which is bound to undo the already tense relationship with her sister. Grace’s daughter Jo, a psychiatrist fresh from her own recent break-up and enjoying single life, is also at home and offering moral support. Lastly Sarah, a female vicar struggling with her own ‘colourful’ past, is the outside preparing to take over the vicarage upon Grace’s departure.
The script is adequate and if the plotline sometimes seems to be on the verge of falling apart, it is saved by the effortless professionalism of the performers. West End darling Delena Kidd as Grace is authentically poignant and incredibly funny. Grace’s repertoire does not just consist of witty one-liners; she also displays a great depth of emotion during recollections of her love for her departed husband. By comparison, the quiet and clueless demeanor of Wanda Ventham’s Ruth seems one-dimensional at first, but Ventham allows a remarkable degree of guilt and repentance to leak out from behind Ruth’s ‘happy-go-lucky’ façade.
Sarah’s complexity and introspection is masterfully translated by Claire Carrie who creates the anxious, burdened state of Sarah with rigour, and contrasts it vividly against her fellow characters. Gary Raymond’s phantom-like ‘Bardolph’ is a strange but somehow effective creation. ‘Bardolph’ hovers constantly on the edges of the story and at the same time haunts the set with an imperturbable aura, which serves as the nexus of the play.
After the suspenseful build-up of the first part, multiple twists are strung together during the second part, after which the credence of the whole is cast into doubt. But regardless, this is a fully realized play, with characters that surprise and unpredictable plot turns. In many ways Entertaining Angels mimics the classic ‘Woman’s film’ genre – the domestic sphere, the doppelganger conflicts with the switching of roles between ‘good’ Grace and ‘bad’ Ruth, Sarah’s self-sacrifice and redemption for her ‘sinful’ past, and Jo’s interconnection as the ‘voice of reason’ throughout the play.
Entertaining Angels is more likely to inspire fondness than awe, but Richard Everett’s dry and straight-faced humour coupled with the stellar performances of the star-studded cast make this a great evening out.
Benn Van Der Westhuizen
Entertaining Angels runs at the Theatre On The Bay from 19 March to 15 April 2014.