Cheriton Players

Fallen Angels by Noel Coward

24thNovember 2018

Reviewed by Eleanor Marsden

The idea of theatre censorship seems to us, in this enlightened age, pretty unthinkable, but as recently as 1925, Noel Coward’s Fallen Angels was causing a stir on Shaftesbury Avenue and Broadway: a play about two girls who get drunk and contemplate a bit of a fling with their recently-arrived shared ex-lover. If that sounds unfeasibly modern… it is. Aged just 24, Coward – with typical acerbic wit – gives his heroines (Julia Sterroll, whose marriage is becoming as sterile as her name suggests, and best friend, Jane Banbury) some quips and observations which could easily come straight out of a Netflix box-set. Thankfully, the Lord Chamberlain can no longer prevent a 2018 revival, but it is easy to see how ahead of his time Coward was with this play, and hence, how much it shocked society in the still-conservative 1920s.

This Cheriton Players’ latest offering, directed with confidence by stalwart member, Richard Perkins, is one of Coward’s lesser-known plays, but one of the funniest things to be seen at the theatre. Beneath the belly laughs, however, the play remains relevant to today’s double-standards and gender politics (Julia and Jane dare to reveal that they both slept with boyfriends before they were married, whilst men publicly ‘have the monopoly on wild oats’). This production, once more on the Players’ bijoux stage, looked convincingly period (thanks to the team of set design and costumiers) and pushed the boundaries of ‘village hall’ drama, including a rip-roaring silent movie sequence, cleverly integrated and filmed by Jim Glaister.

Cue the arrival of old flame, Maurice (an Eric Idle-esque Pete Shepherd with impeccable accent) and the unexpected return of the absent husbands (John Weston as Fred Sterroll, and an amusingly gullible Matt Jones as Willy Banbury), and things, inevitably, escalate. Unusually for recent Cheriton productions, the cast included a number of newcomers, including a delightfully frothy Denise Truscott as Julia. Fiona Mackay amused in turns as both hysterical and hysteric Jane, and as Coward almost always delivers excellent parts for servants, a deadpan Claire Smith with a beautiful singing voice took a peach of a part as Fallen Angels’ polymath maid, Saunders.

Some recurring Cheriton issues with sightlines came up – characters sitting at the front of the stage always become invisible to much of the audience – but the piece was technically slick and pacy. On occasion, the actors directed their lines too much to each other or out front, with little in-between, but other than that the cast was strong and delivered a very enjoyable performance. The company should be proud, both in front of and behind the set: Fallen Angels definitely had wings.