Review: Angels, VAULT Festival

Reading the synopsis of  Angels,  I expect to enter a strip club setting and to enter the world of a film I loved – Hustlers, so whilst queueing in the busy tunnels outside the Cavern, I imagine loud music, glitzy outfits and an atmosphere exploding with sexual tension just waiting on the other side of the door. As I enter the space it does initially seem to offer this vision, however my expectations are clearly off as I am greeted with a near to silent environment, minimal set and characters almost avoiding eye contact with anyone. I am hit by an instant realisation that this piece is not going to be in any way predictable. 

Producer and performer Valerie Isaiah Sadoh opens the show by introducing us to a  typical night in the life of stripper Coco, who lives in London, and the girls who share her working life, as well as the men who pay her to do so. Sadoh presents herself and the other women with honesty; she is not performing for us now, but merely allowing us to hear her thoughts, worries and to pass on stories that are based on real women’s experiences, made known by writer Diane Herbert. We sympathise with Coco as she describes the discrimination she has faced as an actor in an industry that claims to (but doesn’t always) dedicate itself to colour blind casting. We sympathise with Gloria (Yuliya Edgley),  who after succeeding as a ballet dancer, is left high and dry as age catches up with her. We are also asked to try and understand why it’s been so hard for  Laura Morris’s character Nicole to feel accepted by society. 

Directed by Beverly Andrews, all three actors have a realness that is quite refreshing to see on stage. They are sincere with their story-telling and their characters do not glorify their status as strippers in any way, instead providing us with a truthful account of what it is truly like for them, not just as strippers but as women. Sadoh’s writing is full of passion as she aims to give us a piece where women are really heard, yet I can’t help but feel that the women are not quite heard enough. We only get snippets of their stories and never fully discover what makes them who they are, or about the journeys that have taken them to this point, which are also brushed over.

Martin Sweeney and Frank Williams are credited as ensemble; however, Sweeney seems to take spotlight more than anyone, performing numerous characters as he ticks off the list of accents he can clearly do well. This is no criticism on his part but it does at times distract from the stories of the women, who most of the audience are likely there to see and listen to.

Ultimately, Angels is a show with a big heart but lacks in character development, and whilst attempting to be a voice for those society does not understand, like the transgender community, it never fully commits to giving them a voice and ultimately, we are prevented from learning their truths. Telling the stories of these women is where the real passion lies and whilst they are powerful, it feels as though too much is trying to be said, stopping us from making any sort of connection. At the very least, Angels reminds us that we all have stories that come from the heart and no matter where we are from, how we identify or what job we do, we should all be heard.

Angels is playing the VAULT Festival until 23 February. For more information or tickets, visit the Vault Festival website.