Theatre Interlude: Fallen Angels

15 Feb

FallenAngels

When this play was first produced in 1925 it was seen as somewhat shocking because the central premise is that two well-to-do Englishwomen friends might have  had sequential pre-marital affairs with the same Frenchman a dozen years earlier.   The play recounts how, on the day their respective nice-but-dim husbands go off for a golfing weekend together, the women learn that their former lover, Maurice, is coming to England and would like to see them.

From this somewhat far-fetched starting point, the playwright, Noel Coward, fashioned a drawing room comedy for six actors in which the three male roles are very much secondary to the two female leads, Jane and Julia, played in this production by Jenny Seagrove and Sara Crowe  along with Julia’s housemaid, Saunders (played by Gillian McCafferty).

Surprisingly, the abiding memory from this production, directed by Roy Marsden (which has been on tour since last summer and reached the Royal Theatre, Northampton this week) is not the words but some great physical comedy.  Anyone familiar with Noel Coward would probably expect witty repartee – and it’s there in plenty, with Gillian McCafferty’s know-all maid getting many of the best lines but what I hadn’t been expecting was the level of clowning.   Ever since Sara Crowe first came to notice (in TV commercials for Philadelphia cheese for goodness sake) it has been apparent that she is comfortable with comic acting – but I don’t think I had expected to see a well-developed sense of comic timing from Jenny Seagrove.

The vehicle for this is the second act – when Jane and Julia get increasingly drunk, worked up and frustrated at dinner while awaiting the arrival of Maurice. Acting increasingly drunk is probably a lot harder than getting increasingly drunk (I’ve had experience of the latter but not the former) and the two protagonists carry it off well – including a food-fight, pratfalls, bonhomie, befuddlement and aggression.    I can see that  the comedienne, Miranda Hart will be a shoo-in for either leading role if there is another revival in the next five years.

Before this centrepiece came a wordy first act setting the scene of both women’s affectionate but passionless marriages and the longing with which they remember being swept off their feet. Following the dinner scene comes the morning of the next day, the reappearance of the husbands and the arrival, at last, of Maurice, oozing gallic charm. Eventually the plotline is resolved with the two women leaving their bemused husbands alone to go and help Maurice ‘choose wallpaper’ for the upstairs flat he is now renting.

Although the play was popular with audiences when it opened, it proved outrageous to the daily press of the 1920s, with the Daily Express describing the lead characters as “drunken sluts” . Other critics apparently found the idea of women getting drunk and having pre-marital sex as “degenerate”, “disgusting” and “vulgar”.

I didn’t think of the play as any of those things but, despite some funny and clever lines, it remained a two-dimensionally shallow and artificial vehicle. What made the evening though, was the acting of the two principals and the suspicion the audience went away with, that they were having an absolute ball playing the parts!

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One Response to “Theatre Interlude: Fallen Angels”

  1. Shain Ellison Thomas February 15, 2014 at 11:56 pm #

    Reblogged this on the harsh light of day….

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