There is an old saying which we have heard many a time ‘Never judge a book by its cover,’ and I have to throw my hands in the air and say that I saw this production advertised and vowed to stay well away, as it clearly wasn’t a show that seemed of any interest to a twenty something male reviewer, but how wrong I was.
Entertaining Angels was originally performed and produced as part of the 2006 Chichester Festival Theatre Summer Season, and now it arrives on tour.
This comedy throws us straight in at the deep end, Grace is still missing her recently deceased husband, who was also the village priest and regularly talks to her husband throughout the day much to the bemusement of her clinical psychologist daughter Jo, who happens to be helping newly appointed priest Sarah (yes that is right, a woman vicar!!!) through her own problems.
Throw into the mix - Grace's missionary older sister who has her own secrets to share and the scene for a bumpy but highly enjoyable ride.The vast majority of the production is set in the garden of the old rectory and the set design by Paul Farnsworth is a delight to behold, with real grass and running stream, a full sized potting shed and the vast exterior of the rectory building itself deserves high praise.
Although one would have to question the use of mirrors in the set, as from where I was sitting you could see everything that happened in the stage left wings with unbelievable clarity, that at times took your attention away from what was happening on stage.
Director Alan Strachan manages to keep the narrative flowing, making sure the comedic elements of the script – of which there are many laugh-out-loud moments and the more poignant emotionally heavy scenes sit side by side in an almost perfect harmony.
Heading up the cast is TV & Theatre veteran Penelope Keith as Grace providing us with a stunning performance, handling the emotional scenes with real weight and clarity, whilst relishing the comedy and the sharp tongue of her character at every possible moment.
Polly Adams also delivers a very strong performance as head-strong sister, Ruth. One feels that perhaps more could have been given by Benjamin Whithrow as Bardolph (Grace’s deceased husband) who felt a little flat and lacked any real energy to carry throughout the Lowry’s vast Lyric Auditorium. Claudia Elmhurst gives a great sense of warmth to her role as the newly appointed Vicar and Carolyn Backhouse has plenty of oomph as the level headed daughter Jo.
Entertaining Angels is a captivating piece of theatre, which has buckets full of emotional warmth, and poignancy, aided by a stunning set and a stellar cast.
In fact, you couldn’t want more from a night at the theatre during these cold Autumn evenings.