It’s not uncommon for conversation with a loved one to continue after their death, especially if the passing was sudden. But Grace and Bardy have more than loose ends to tie up. It would seem that Bardy’s death laid the stage for the revelation of more than a few secrets from beyond the grave.
Richard Everett’s 2006 script covers the transitional period of a clergy wife, Grace (Julie Mathers), vacating her home after the death of the her husband Bardy (David Schad) and welcoming in the new vicar Sarah (Michelle Masefield). But Grace is resistant to the change and doesn’t appreciate the “help” from her hovering daughter Jo (Amy Austin) and sister Ruth (Linda Young). And then the blows keep coming when Ruth reveals a 30-year-old secret in the form of a son that rewrites the life Grace thought she had built with Bardy. The story is tight, even as it takes in the life experiences of many characters, with the central focus of doubt, in oneself and others, which can cloud even the clearest decisions.
Director Jennifer Wallison leant into the script’s family drama dynamics with characterisations of Jo and Ruth as warmhearted meddlers against the extremes of Sarah’s trepidation and Grace’s stubbornness. But as a religious family, God played a hand in all of the interpersonal relationships and clearly carried great influence in decision-making. At times, greater focus could have been placed on the art of conversation as the actors zoomed through their thoughts without seeming to hear the other character and without developing a sense of connection between them. The set design by Maureen Cartledge was elaborate and similarly captured the hearty warmth of the small English village in which the clergy sat with a cheerful bubbling stream, gnarled willow tree, and charming back garden complete with a potter’s greenhouse. Lighting and sound from Casey Moon-Watton and Geoff Jones kept the time ticking along with changes in sunlight and sunset and the constant hum of a lawnmower in the distance.
Mathers, as the commanding central figure of the twice bereaved wife, had a difficult task of making sympathetic an incredibly unlikeable character. Grace was abrasive, snide, and ungenerous in her dealings with her family but Mathers revealed deep insecurity and disappointment underneath that fuelled her scorn. On the other hand, Masefield’s Sarah was processing similar feelings of loss and shame but turning the feelings inwards into a crippling self-doubt. Jo and Ruth, despite their personal mistakes, were portrayed as familiarly flawed with genuine desires to muddle through as best they could.
Whether or not the religious themes resonate with you, Entertaining Angels speaks to the universal feeling of doubt about past decisions, successful and failed relationships, and your own place and purpose in the world.
Entertaining Angels is running at the Pavilion Theatre from January 21st – February 12th
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