Review: Fallen Angels
By Alan Wooding
With 88-year-old Angela Lansbury currently wowing West End audiences and reprising her role as Madame Arcati in Noel Coward’s comedy Blithe Spirit, another theatre favourite opened at Milton Keynes Theatre last night in one of Coward’s farce-like plays, Fallen Angels.
Produced by Bill Kenwright, it’s his long-time partner Jenny Seagrove (now 56) who takes on this satirical plays joint lead character, Julia Sterroll, who along with her best friend Jane Banbury (played by Sara Crowe), has a weakness for the finer things in life … and champagne!
While Coward wrote Fallen Angels in 1923, on its West End debut two years later it really rocked the boat. By suggesting that women had affairs and got drunk, it had the critics labelling it as vulgar, shocking and disgusting.
All the action takes place in a Julia’s luxurious Mayfair apartment where we surmise that she and her middle-class husband Fred (Tim Wallers) share a loveless 12 year marriage.
Then when Jane, who is married to Will (Robin Sebastian), makes a sashaying entrance, she announces that she has received a postcard from an old flame who is to visit London … and suddenly things begin to hot up!
With their husbands away on a planned golfing weekend, we learn the ‘old flame’ is French ‘Casanova’ Maurice. He had had an affair with both women several years earlier in Italy … and those passions begin to rise again in the now sex-starved, middle-aged females.
Making plans to show Maurice (Philip Battley) what fabulous lifestyles the two friends (and close neighbours) have in their Mayfair homes, they suggest they hold an elegant dinner party with a meal of oysters and champagne.
There then comes a rather lengthy scene change midway through the first act accompanied by the song ‘You Are My Lucky Star’ from Singing in the Rain. So why that particular number and not one from Noel Coward’s own huge songbook catalogue?
Having donned their seductive black evening dresses, there’s plenty of hysterics as Maurice fails to show and the girls suggest they have a drink or two! Plenty of champagne is quaffed before the slapstick and alcoholic farce takes over as the now inebriated pair begin to throw things around … especially the profiteroles!
The London apartment is certainly sumptuous and the chemistry between the two women wonderful. With her slicked down hair, Seagrove (she was the television lover of Martin Shaw’s Judge John Deed) and Crowe (whose films include Carry on Columbus and Four Weddings and a Funeral) they take on the roles magnificently while evoking plenty of humour.
As for Julia’s maid Jasmine Saunders (brilliantly played by Gillian McCafferty), she has an answer for everything and for every occasion. The likeable ‘Saunders’ comes up with plenty of timely quips and punchlines and, having delivered them so perfectly, every time she leaves the stage there’s a ripple of laughter from the audience. Oh! and she also expertly serves the oysters and martinis!
While Maurice has nothing much more than a bit part, he does finally make a grand entrance following a series of misunderstandings, arguments and lies between the married couples after the husbands come back early from their golfing weekend. Maurice oozes Gallic charm and certainly seems to enjoy the moment when the two doting females nuzzle up to him on the sofa!
Fallen Angels is directed by lanky actor Roy Marsden – he’s still best remembered for his television portrayals of PD James’ Adam Dalgliesh and Danny Driscoll in Only Fools and Horses – and according to a colleague who recently saw the play at Northampton’s Derngate Theatre, the opening night at Milton Keynes was far more polished as the two leading ladies seemed to throw themselves into the drunken scene with gay abandoned.
The set is really superb in its detail, from its huge crystal chandelier, white baby grand piano and large picture windows. Fallen Angels is a charming piece of theatre and although a little dated, Coward’s comedy and wit is still there but it’s certainly not as hilarious or as shocking as it might have been back in the 1920s.
With the former Albery Theatre in London’s St Martin’s Lane now renamed the Noel Coward Theatre, Fallen Angels is one of his better known comedies and one which Bill Kenwright originally produced in the West End at the Apollo Theatre more than a decade ago – and well before part of the Sharftsbury Avenue venue’s roof fell on the audience just before Christmas!
This latest revival of Coward’s champagne cork-popping saga is set to play Milton Keynes until this Saturday (March 22) while there is a matinee today (Wednesday) at 2.30pm and another on Saturday at the same time. And for tickets, call the Milton Keynes Theatre box office on 08448 717652 (booking fees apply) or on-line at www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes