Review written by Flossie Waite
A Theatre Hullabaloo Production
There have been quite a few plays recently about the relationship between young people and pensioners, and a number of these deal with illness in older people, such as The Summer Book and Monday’s Child. With Angel, this is just one part of a play packed with issues, and whilst it does feel political, it’s not heavy-handed. Ruth Cooper’s production does not offer lessons to be learnt, but creates an opportunity for the audience to pick up some useful stuff.
Bill is a girl whose parents are constantly at each other’s throats. Miriam is an older woman who remembers less and less, and grows more and more afraid of being put into care. And Ronnie is stuck in a residential home, his daily interaction a cursory “I’ll be with you in a minute” from the staff.
“This isn’t a story,” Bill tells us at the beginning. “This is real.” At first, though, it seems exactly like a story, Bill’s pronouncement a nice dramatic trick. When Bill sees Miriam drop her bag, she follows her home, lets herself in through the unlocked door to return it, and the two get along famously. So far, so twee. But all of a sudden Miriam’s mood shifts – she reacts with justified terror at the stranger she suddenly realizes has entered her home. We’re reminded with a jolt that this isn’t a world where everyone’s a neighbour: you can leave your preconceptions about storytelling and issue-driven drama at the unlocked door.
Along with Miriam’s mood changes, she slips into being a little girl again, her voice high as she vividly remembers a childhood race. Again, this seems like a theatrical device, monologues to reveal her character and backstory to the audience. But when Bill is in the same room we realise that no, these slips are ‘real’ and spoken aloud – Bill can hear and see them, and they’re scary.
Bek Palmer’s great set makes more and more sense the longer as the play goes on. The beige, washed out interior of Miriam’s house, filled with piles of old newspapers, seems to suggest a receding life that can be looked-over, but a closer look reveals exotic knickknacks that speak of an interesting past. The sound, designed by Ed Heaton, is also subtle but effective – over the radio, the news reports Vince Cable’s anger at a fresh wave of cuts announced by the government in a play where all three characters struggle to deal with their circumstances alone. When Miriam becomes a little girl again, a deep, long, deadening noise sounds that is so fitting, it is hard to even distinguish its existence.
Kevin Dyer’s script trusts the audience, showing rather than telling, and feeling above all that. Ronnie sits silently in a wheelchair, on a platform at the back of the stage, facing steps. He occasionally interacts with a harried voice, but for long stretches of the play it is easy to forget that he is there – even with the best will in the world and an attentive audience, Miriam’s fears about care homes are felt to be true.
The play couldn’t be so affecting if it wasn’t also so funny, and it’s refreshing that an older woman provides most of the laughs. Angel is very honest: when Bill tells Miriam “it’s going to be okay”, Miriam angrily responds that it’s not, and they’re both right and they’re both wrong. After 70 minutes, there’s no happy ending, but thing’s are a bit better.
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