I was seriously underwhelmed by this one. After an ambitious and laudable Helen and a splendid Calendar Girls, four stars for that one folks, I found Wheathampstead’s latest offering about as gripping as a limp lettuce. Richard Everett’s Entertaining Angels is full of exposition but little else. Five characters inhabit the vicarage garden stage and have enough skeletons to fill half a dozen cupboards. Trouble is none of them were that interesting. A now dead vicar impregnated his wife’s missionary sister, he was more seduced than predatory, and thirty years later it all comes pouring out. That’s the central plot and, to labour the emotional angst, sundry characters spell out their own traumas. A psychotherapist daughter is scarred by a failed marriage and a new female vicar, replacing the dead one in both church and home, got knocked up by a French polisher with a nice arse. The foetus died and her husband grieved for a child that wasn’t his. All no doubt gobsmacking in therapy sessions but as drama on a stage, in which folks stand around aimlessly spouting, it gets very tedious. The one slight dramatic slant, resilient widow chatting to dead husband, merely served to underline the paucity of a dreary script.
Given that I was not enamoured of the play it is easy to dismiss the performances. That would be unfair as none were less than competent. But plays like this need grabbing by the throat and bustling along to retain even a modicum of interest and if the actors were ill served by the script they were not much helped by Jan Westgarth’s less than imaginative direction. Other than walking on to the garden and delivering their latest bit of bottled up guilt the actors did little else. None seemed to have a life offstage, forgivable in the deceased vicar I suppose, and none did much on stage other than motionlessly churn out the script. I was almost screaming for someone to knit a cardigan, read a book, do some weeding, ruin a meal. Creosote a fence. Anything to suggest real lives in a real world. All here seemed to be performing in a vacuum of religious therapy.
Pip Dowdell did a fair job as the resilient and spiky widow Grace, delivering most of her comic lines with aplomb, but she has often impressed more when doing less. Viv Fairley’s missionary sister Ruth and Irene Morris’s female vicar Sarah did their best but, devoid of imaginative help, characters were depressingly one dimensional. When two such good actresses flounder you can be pretty sure that they are riding a bit of a plodder. Julie O’Shea was far too young to be an embittered thirty four year old Psychotherapist, I worked that out, and it was left to the sole male, Robert Naylor-Stables, to give us the most pleasing performance of the evening. He could be forgiven in his speechifying, there was a lot of the in Mr Everett’s script, and he had the dual advantages of looking every inch a country vicar and of being unmistakeably dead. A lone outsider can counterpoint the action. Trouble is, the action in this piece was as rare as hen’s teeth.
The lighting was good, especially in scenes of old memories, and the lawnmower effective and realistic. And Len Skilton had meticulously designed a pleasing set. I am not a fan of painted backdrops but this one was seriously good. But overall not one of the Wheathampstead’s best productions. Only my opinion of course. The house was so full that they had to lay on extra chairs and many left saying how wonderful it all was. So perhaps it’s me. I have the same problem with Emmerdale and Eastenders. Watched and loved by millions, spurned in our house. But I have a sneaking feeling, though they would never admit it, that some of the sharper theatrical brains down the B653 might agree with me. Entertaining Angels ain’t much of a play and, ultimately, it defeated this fine company. In a theatrical race where Narrative Drive and Dramatic Conflict were non runners this script was tailed off before the third fence. Roy Hall