Entertaining Angels

Director: Richard Digby Day

Cast: Delena Kidd, Wanda Ventham, Gary Raymond, Emily Raymond, Claire Carrie

Venue: Theatre on the Bay

until: April 5

Rating: ****

Successful drama – the sort that captures and holds audience attention – depends to a large extent on contrasts, and there is no shortage of those in Entertaining Angels, a bittersweet comedy by playwright Richard Everett.

The most obvious contrast is that between appearances and reality as dark secrets, harboured over many years, resurface to haunt the seemingly blameless individuals who gravitate about a vicarage garden in rural England.

Another, more piquant contrast is born of the amalgam between the script’s astringent humour and the emotional warmth of the characters’ interaction.

The play’s chronology is fluid, drifting seamlessly between past and present to recapture pivotal moments in the lives of three women: Grace, the late vicar’s widow; Ruth, her elder sister; and Jo, her daughter. The vicar’s ghost makes intermittent appearances, perceived only by Grace, enabling us to form an idea of his personality as well as the nature of his relationships with the bereaved women.

Then there is Sarah, the new incumbent of the vicar’s post – an amiable young woman with a secret or two of her own and a correspondingly uneasy conscience.

Revelations multiply with uncomfortable consequences, and the resolution of the resulting imbroglio makes for engrossing theatre, with forgiveness finally providing a soft landing for the personae involved, both living and dead.

A significant factor in the success of this production is the calibre of acting and direction: interaction between the characters is unforced and wholly convincing, with impeccable timing and clarity of diction.

It helps that real-life relationships coincide with those portrayed; off-stage, Kidd (Grace) and Raymond (Bardolph, the vicar, pictured right with Kidd) are the parents of Emily Raymond (Jo), making this a family affair in more ways than one. Their natural, spontaneous performances are complemented by polished contributions from Wanda Ventham as Ruth and Claire Carrie in the role of Sarah, to create a superb ensemble.

A clever device is the lateral switching of the screened image on the backdrop to suggest the contrasting sites of action (mani- cured garden versus rustic stream, the latter a sort of confessional). Director Richard Digby Day’s meticulous attention to detail in the staging promotes authenticity.

These angels are entertaining in the extreme, and well worth a visit.