A.S. Byatt is not necessarily one of the first names that spring to mind when thinking of prominent Yorkshire writers, so it’s an interesting choice to include Juliet Forster’s adaptation of Byatt’s 2002 work, Angels & Insects, in York Theatre Royal’s Yorkshire Season.
The story revolves around William Adamson (Jonathan Race), a Victorian entomologist who returns home from an Ill-fated expedition to the Amazon with only the shirt on his back. He is taken in and given work by a wealthy aristocrat and whilst carrying out his work there he falls for, marries and has a family with his benefactor’s beguiling daughter, all under the constant watch of mysterious governess Matty (Joanna Hickman). As one might expect however, all is not what it seems on the surface. Cracks begin to appear in the relationship before a dark secret is revealed that rocks the tranquil existence of the characters.
Tranquillity in general is a bit of a problem for this production. The characters themselves are quite sedate and somewhat lacking in raw passion, even when the massive revelation is exposed it is dealt with in a frustratingly buttoned-down way. Much of the action, particularly in the first half, is passive, save for a couple of impressive flourishes, the production lacks visual dynamism. Indeed it feels at the beginning like the work would have been better suited to a radio adaptation.
However, working in a small space, Race and Hickman remain highly engaging throughout. Race deserves credit for effortlessly carrying the vast bulk of a very wordy script, as does Hickman for seamlessly incorporating evocative cello accompaniment in to her role. Between them they manage to create a sense of repressed yearning that ultimately is not unmoving.
Angels & Insects runs at York Theatre Royal until 4 May. For further information visit www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk