" I came back, but I did leave". Jean's throwaway comment in the second act of Roy Williams’ play Angel House sums up the situation in which four generations of a West Indian family living in London find themselves.
There's Desmond, now an old man, who has learnt the hard way to live and let live, how and what to let go. Jean is his daughter, yet to learn those lessons fully and still bound to Lloyd, who plays by his own rules. Their sons are Stephen and Frank. Stephen is a successful professional, sights set on a Parliamentary seat. Frank has chosen another, darker path to material success. Frank's son Adam is a teenager with all the sexual frustrations and emotional hang-ups inherent in that state.
These people do not exist by themselves in a personal vacuum. Adam's friends are Sean and Sophie; each has a mixed agenda for the relationship. Stephen has a new bright live-in girl-=friend; this one is not prepared to be put out with the recycling. And offstage is Trevor, the drug baron who owns Frank and who is owed. Big time.
The cast of eight significantly double some roles. Chandra Ruegg makes a spirited contrast between flirt-pot Sophie and calm Chloe. You can see why Claire Benedict's Jean feels an affinity with her, different as their upbringings have been. Geoff Aymer plays the gentle Desmond and the brash Lloyd - contrasts in manhood and the acquiring (or not, in Lloyd's case) of maturity.
Mark Monero gives Frank an increasing status as he comes to terms with his own failings and stands up to their consequences. His final scene with his son (Tendayi Jembere as Adam) is moving - for what is done and not said as much as for its actual verbal exchanges. Richard Blackwood is Stephen, so fixated on future rewards that present responsibilities somehow get pushed into the background.
And where does the building of the title come into all this? Angel House is a partly-demolished west London tower block, once home to Desmond, to Jean and to her sons Stephen and Frank. Now it’s ripe for development, into luxury apartments, of course. If there never were any real angels hovering there, these days the rubble houses its own demons.
This is well expressed in Libby Watson's all-purpose set, within which director Paulette Randall keeps the action as fluid as in pre-Restoration theatre. The use of illuminated boards to suggest where each scene is taking place reinforces this sense of uninterrupted flow, though personally I could dispense with the perambulating settee.
- Anne Morley-Priestman (reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich)