Deliciously risque and hilariously naughty
Crowe and Seagrove provide comedy gold
Last night saw the opening of Noel Cowards Fallen Angels at Darlington Civic Theatre and provided for the almost sell out audience a real tonic in this damp and cold February. Looking through the history books, this play was first performed back in 1925 at the Globe, to which reviews commented that it was "..vulgar, disgusting, outrageous, shocking, nauseating, obscene and degenerate" - scant praise indeed and yet despite, or perhaps because of, such feedback Fallen Angels was a resounding success, a success which on current form it will be repeating again almost 90 years later.
Built on the themes of infidelity, sexual liberation, equality and more than a touch of disregard for the social expectations of the time, Noel Coward's peak under the bed clothes of 20's high society is full of his trademark word play and erudite observations, but it is the visual humour which elevates this performance into the annals of greatness and provides one of the funniest evenings this wonderful theatre has seen for many years.
The premise is quite a simple one; two ladies, who, before marrying, were both in love with the same exotic Frenchman; a love which they had consigned to their misty eyed, rose coloured past, whilst they duly followed convention and married perfectly honourable (if somewhat boring) English gents. Then, 14 years later and completely out of the blue, they both receive a postcard from 'Monsieur Amor' announcing that he is to visit and with this simple correspondence old passions are aflame, jealousies aroused and dreams resurface.
The leading ladies, Jenny Seagrove and Sara Crowe both have tremendous pedigrees for the variety and depth of roles they have played, and whilst this is neither's first foray into comedy, their impeccable timing and physical dexterity (bordering on slapstick) showed that both are amazingly adept at creating belly laughs from mere glances. I warn anyone going to see this that the last 15 minutes of the 1st act will have you literally gasping for breath, bereft of ribs and pleading for the curtain to fall and the chance to regain some sense of dignity, not to mention a reappraisal of the stage power of a pineapple.
The second act continues with both ladies seeking to gain an advantage over the other whilst trying not to betray their own passions until the climax, when, as both husbands begin to realise they may have been duped, Monsieur Duclos arrives to add a Gallic frisson to proceedings. Philip Battley who plays the suave & debonair Frenchman was wonderful, a cameo mix of Maurice Chevalier and English Cad Terry Thomas and whose entrance, late in the play, was met with many appreciative gasps from the ladies in the audience.
Whilst the setting may be 1920's London, the cleverness of the play and the perfection of the acting make this quite timeless; lets face it, sex, love, passion and champagne know no boundaries.