JOYCE MCMILLAN on ENTERTAINING ANGELS at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman, 21.10.09
3 stars ***
THE “LOAMSHIRE” play, all french windows and cut-glass accents; Kenneth Tynan tried to sound its death-knell in the 1950’s, yet here it is, alive and well in the 21st century. First seen at Chichester in 2006, Richard Everett’s Entertaining Angels – in which Penelope Keith plays a recently bereaved vicar’s wife, struggling with unexpected news about her husband’s past – achieves the rare triple whammy of being completely old-fashioned in style, form and content. In classic Loamshire style, the play is set in a vicarage garden, where well-bred types exchange lines like “You’re not suffering a crisis of faith, are you, old thing?”; the two-act form is strictly conventional.
And the content – well, here we are in the social world of at least a generation ago, with a touch of feminism in the air, but with the central character apparently convinced that most of the changes sweeping society are ill-advised and laughable. The central revelation around which the plot revolves is hopelessly far-fetched; and the leading characters talk as if they had been young in Edwardian times, rather than the 1960’s.
Yet in Alan Strachan’s production, the play is beautifully presented, with Penelope Keith acting up a storm in the leading role, and Benjamin Whitrow offering beautifully-pitched support as the remembered presence of her husband. It’s a shame to see these two wasting their talents on such an improbable soap-opera, staged in a style that makes everyone under 50 think theatre is not for them. But they are still supreme professionals, in their difficult craft; and it’s a pleasure to watch them at work.