REVIEW: A haunting look at love, life and death

Picture by Jim Palmer
Picture by Jim Palmer

Entertaining Angels, The Archway Theatre Company, Horley, April 29 (until May 9)

A straightforward laugh is always enjoyable but sometimes people want their comedy to have a bit of substance.

Picture by Jim Palmer

Picture by Jim Palmer

If this describes you, then Entertaining Angels is well worth checking out.

It’s a bittersweet drama that combines tragedy and humour to create a particularly strong and thought-provoking experience.

The play is set entirely in a vicarage garden and reveals hidden truths about the relationship between a clergy wife named Grace and her Reverend husband Bardolph.

It begins after Bardolph’s death with Grace feeling strangely conflicted about the situation. She’s surprisingly liberated, choosing to say whatever’s on her mind, but she’s also trapped, unwilling to leave a home that’s rich with memories.

Picture by Jim Palmer

Picture by Jim Palmer

The plot develops as other characters invade the vicarage. The new vicar Sarah is preparing to move in, Grace’s psychotherapist daughter Jo is trying to understand her mother and Grace’s missionary sister Ruth is being a nuisance. On top of all this, Bardolph’s ghost is still tending to his flowers and chatting with his wife.

Luise Cartwright is very good as Grace. One minute, she’s confident and witty, making cutting remarks with precise comic timing. The next, she’s teary or annoyingly stubborn, reacting in complex ways to the story’s shocking developments.

Andy Wiggins is alternately charming and cowardly as Bardolph, presenting a flawed man of faith with a tendency to over-analyse things.

Viv Short’s Ruth starts the play as a cheerful do-gooder, but becomes increasingly forlorn as she’s forced to confront reality.

Similarly, Louise Taw presents Jo as a rather forward psychotherapist, but one whose profession can’t stop her from getting emotional in a family crisis.

Alison Suart is on good form too as Sarah, an uncertain vicar who wants to live a moral life.

For a comedy, the play asks some tough questions. What turns someone’s bad behaviour into a true betrayal? Can religious faith become a prison, or is it a tool for setting people free?

The performers handle these ideas carefully though and, thanks to the high standard of acting, the characters don’t simply come across as mouthpieces for a ‘message’.

The only problem I have is with the script itself, which often veers suddenly from big laughs to big drama...and back again.

It’s not too jarring though and Clive Greig’s direction holds the show’s various elements together nicely to present a wry and memorable exploration of love, life and death.