NODA review of Entertaining Angels

Performance: 9th September 2019

Review by Richard Fitt

First of all, my apologies: I always think it unfair to review a production on the opening night and normally I avoid doing so, but on this occasion circumstances left me little choice.

Entertaining Angels is a 2006 play by Richard Everett, which is set in summer in the spectacular garden of the vicarage where the vicar has just died and his widow, Grace, is about to move out and hand over to the new incumbent. After 30 years of being the good vicar’s wife, she looks forward to her new found freedom, where she can speak her mind freely and do what she wants. However, the arrival of her missionary sister and the startling revelations that follow force Grace to confront some home truths about her marriage.

The spectacular set designed by the director David Russell, constructed by The Monday Night Team and painted by David Midlane was a walled garden with French windows exiting to the house stage left with matching brickwork, an archway to the rear complete with lawn and a well-painted idyllic view of the village in the background. Against the wall, stage right was a lean-to greenhouse and the whole set was draped in an appropriate array of flowers and climbing plants. The piece-de-resistance being the stream to stage right, complete with the sound effect of running water representing the bottom of the garden where Grace and her late husband used to spend tranquil moments. Stage furniture was simply a garden bench and a garden table and chairs. It certainly took you straight into the world of peaceful country vicarages and was exactly right for this setting. One of the best sets I’ve seen at Sharnbrook and they have produced some crackers over the past few years.

Lighting by Ricky Johnson gave exactly the right wash to enhance this idyllic summer country scene, and the sound by Sam Toner added the atmosphere, especially that running water effect, and with that level of attention to detail it couldn’t fail to draw the audience into the set.  Great job all round!

Costumes were provided by the cast themselves together with stock from Sharnbrook’s own collection and props were sourced by stalwart Sue Lander.

This was a first rate, very experienced and confident cast who complimented each other perfectly.

Kaye Vincent as Grace is obviously a very accomplished actress and all-round performer and carried this show extremely well. She was particularly deft at handling the pathos and the anger towards her sister with some cutting, barbed and very funny jibes. Add to that some touching moments with the ghost of her late husband, some awkward moments with her daughter and she pretty much covered the entire gambit of rollercoaster emotions.

Becky Woodham as her sister Ruth was a great foil, carrying the guilt and embarrassment of her brief fling with Bardy with determination to own up, but not quite knowing how to do so and desperate for forgiveness, so she can bring her resultant son fully into the family. Awkward and often frosty silences between them said as much as the spoken word and the barbed comments. The final reconciliation was a textbook piece of drama perfectly pitched.

Heather Allan as the daughter, Jo, was my favourite character: the sensible one who tries to moderate and bring peace to the warring sisters whilst at the same time having hangover angst from her own divorce.  Her character just got better and better as the play went on and she becomes much more central to the plot and demonstrates an old head on young shoulders. Wonderfully pitched.

Mark Woodham as Bardy, the late vicar, who appears only to Grace’s imagination, was every inch the classic not-quite-worldly vicar with his head buried in his sermon notebook, not really wanting to face the consequences of his adulterous actions. Played with a calm air of aloofness, an even tempered and unflappable character whose presence was always tranquil, despite the turmoil around him. Classic stuff.

Leisa Cooke added the je ne sais quoi as the new curate Sarah, who is drawn into the family crisis and who, of course, has her own past problems simmering in the background, whilst providing a foil for Jo to unburden. Another well-paced performance to round off this excellent cast.

David Russell did a first class job on this and used the Mill’s resources to the maximum: great set, excellent acting, fine direction and provided a great evening entertainment. But, and this is only my opinion having seen only this production of the play, as a play with comedic dialogue interspersed throughout it was excellent, but as a straight comedy, for which it was billed, it didn’t really fizz along with the required pace for me. There were some great cutting lines, a marvellous piece of belly laughing with the lawnmower and quite a few chuckles, but the audience were more smiles than rolling around in their seats. Maybe it was the script, or maybe Russell deliberately directed it as more drama than comedy? I don’t know, but although I thoroughly enjoyed it, for me it was definitely a great play with comedic moments, not a full-on comedy. Others may well disagree..?

Many thanks again to our hosts, Sharnbrook Mill Theatre Trust and FOH Manager Dave Oliver for looking after us so well once again, we look forward to The Railway Children in November.