Wit, charm and laughs a plenty

Ish for you: Jane, played by Sara Crowe finds Julia, played by Jenny Seagrove all tied up on a call in the midst of their increasingly liquid supper with Gillian McCafferty as Saunders, standing guard in the background

Fallen Angels

The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

****

SOCIETY divorces and scandal in high places was not only the stock in trade of newspapers in the 1920s but one of the favourite topics in the withdrawing and smoking rooms of the rich and privileged.

And it was into this rich vein of indiscretion and up-market gossip that the budding playwright, Noel Coward, 24-year-old son of a struggling piano salesman, aimed his wit and observant eye.

These days with a divorce to change husbands, or wives, hardly more difficult that changing cars and the indiscretions of slebs stage managed by image consultants and PR machines for the benefit of gossip columns and slebrags the story has lost its scandal element.

At its opening in 1925 the critics, of the same newspapers, incidentally,  whose bread and butter and circulations depended upon the titivating peccadilloes of similar characters in real life,  were outraged.

The Daily Express described the two female leads as “suburban sluts” while degenerate was one of the kinder descriptions.

All of which served to put a healthy number of bums on seats at The Globe Theatre as eager patrons went along to see what the fuss was about in an age when, under the Lord Chamberlain’s censoring eye,  sex was limited to what coal came in.

The very idea of women having (whisper it) sex before marriage was risqué to say the least in 1925, although human nature being what it was, and is, the shame was not so much in the act as in being caught in, or at least after the act.These days eyelids remain unbatted by such goings on so the plays is carried along by the wit and charm of Coward’s writing and, in this Bill Kenwright production, by the huge, sumptuous set of the Sterroll’s West End apartment, designed by Paul Farnsworth.

The story is simple opening with news of a divorce, which is to set the scene rather than offer any significance. Fred Sterroll (Daniel Hill) is awaiting his friend Willy Banbury (Robin Sebastian) to head off for a boy’s only golfing weekend in Chichester.

That leaves their respective wives Julia (Jenny Seagrove) and Jane (Sara Crowe) to have a girl’s weekend at home except they are contacted by a mutual former lover, Maurice, which sets hearts, and other, more earthly parts of their anatomy, a fluttering.

As the two friends await the arrival of the pheromone burning old flame they slowly descend into bitchy drunkenness with some delightful, if somewhat unsteady and slightly slurred, touched which probably leaves Seagrove and Crowe nursing a healthy collection of bumps and bruises night after night.

Keeping order is Jasmine Saunders, the new housekeeper, maid, cook  and everything else (Gillian McCafferty) who appears to have been everywhere, done everything and probably not only has the t-shirt but probably made it, out of Tibetan yak’s nose hairs,  as well.

Her military bearing and no nonsense style is a lovely foil to the more laid back – eventually as in comatose – style of Juila and Jane.

Cheers: Julia and Jane  get a little tangles in their tipples

In their drunken state Julia and Jane compete for the attention of Maurice, who hasn’t even turned up, ending in a huge row while down in Chichester Fred and Willie are also having a row – not about competing for the harms of Maurice, even Coward would not have dared to go that far in 1925.

So when Jane storms out to go to Maurice and Willy arrives early the net morning after leaving Fred and then goes off with Julia to to find Jane, who in turn arrives back to find Fred who set off to find Julia, the scene is set for revelation, conclusion jumping and skeletons coming out of closets holding cans of worms.

Enter Maurice (Philip Battley) all suave, Gallic charm with an eye, and one suspects, much else available for the ladies and we are left with a messy ménage a cinque and if this play has a failing, it is perhaps the end, which is a little messy  in itself. Up to that point you are carried along but the ending somehow never quite rings true having more of a sitcom feel than the conclsion of a play.

That is not to detract from some fine performances though with Hill and Sebastian capturing the style and airs of the successful, if rather dull,  1920s man about town while Gillian McCafferty gives us a real busy body know it all Saunders but the real accolades have to go to Jenny Seagrove and Sara Crowe who give us a wonderful picture of women of leisure, and, should we say, a past of less than difficult virtue.

The play is in three acts and the middle act, their descent in to drunkenness is wonderfully funny with some delightful touches, falls and cleverly observed attempts of the inebriated to function with irrational rationality.

Director Roy Marsden should be congratulated for keeping a firm grip on a scene that could so easily have descended into knockabout pantomime. Instead the scene moves the play on and the gradual inebriation, always kept the right side of farce, just adds to the humour and laughs.

It all adds to what is a most enjoyable evening of theatre. To 05-10-13.

Roger Clarke

 

Catching falling stars

****

YOU can only wonder at the shock this Noel Coward play must have given audiences when in first opened in 1925, with two respectable ladies revealing pre-marital affairs with the same man . . . and even considering more action behind their husbands' backs.

Not so shocking in this day and age, maybe, but Bill Kenwright's revival of the classy comedy is delighting audiences at its Midlands premiere in the Black Country.

As soon as the curtain opens to reveal a superb set, representing the drawing room of of Fred and Julia Sterroll's plush London flat, you feel something special is on the agenda, and so it proves.

Jenny Seagrove and Sara Crowe are a delight as best friends Julia Sterroll and Jane Banbury whose safe but boring marriages lead to thoughts of mischief when their husbands Fred (Daniel Hill) and Willy (Robin Sebastian) head off for a golfing break.

The impending surprise visit of their old flame, Frenchman Maurice (Philip Battley), creates an opportunity to rekindle past passion, but also sparks jealousy and misunderstanding between the two ladies as they drink champagne in a hilarious drunken scene.

A highly amusing performance, too, from Gillian McCafferty as Saunders, the Sterrolls' know-all maid with the military style arrivals,in response to a small handbell, and departures.

Fallen Angels continue on the brink until 05.10.13

Paul Marston 

Home Grand Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre