The plot of Noël Coward’s Fallen Angels is blissfully simple. Two self-proclaimed ‘happily’ married wives have their faith in their loyalty to their husbands, and each other, shaken when an ex-lover – of both women – reappears in their lives. What ensues is a day and night of reminiscing, deliberating, arguing and fantasising about their old (shared) French fling, Maurice. The premise lends itself well to a script of comic and playful dialogue, with plenty of room for farcical incidents.
The trouble with this production, though, is that the effect of the humour wavers greatly throughout. The play is predominantly carried by the antics of best friends Julia Sterroll (Jenny Seagrove) and Jane Banbury (Sara Crowe) as they gradually consume inordinate amounts of champagne. Whilst both Seagrove and Crowe are excellent matches to portray the on-the-whole content – yet slightly restless – upper-class wives, it’s the timing that lags and slows this production down at points.
Some moments are played out perfectly and Coward’s witty lines are allowed to land lightly. The fumbling, slurring and arbitrary decisions made under the influence are often gratifyingly realised, particularly by Seagrove. The well-timed moments are highly enjoyable, and allow everyone to familiarise with elements of the absurd behaviour of these intoxicated women. At other points though, the flow unexpectedly dies a little bit when slight pauses cause the pace to lag. For a sober audience, watching some of their booze-fuelled antics becomes a little cringe-worthy. This is perhaps down to slow direction by Roy Marsden, as it feels that at times the cast are hesitant to stampede through the sequence of events. Without a build-up however, certain trips, stumbles or uninhibited exclamations jar slightly and feel awkwardly forced.
It must be said though, this criticism is only of a few instances in the first half, and for the most part Seagrove and Crowe do a fine job of bringing the laughs. Seagrove upholds Julia’s sharp dismissal of household-help Saunders (Gillian McCafferty) consistently. McCafferty is also strong in her blunt delivery and provides a welcome buffer throughout the tense wait for Maurice.
Robin Sebastian and Tim Wallers as Willy Banbury and Fred Sterroll provide a nice balance as the perplexed husbands. They are both a little dopey, remaining naively unsuspecting until they are pretty much hit over the head with the evidence. They pale in comparison to the suave and commanding Maurice (Philip Battley), whose presence is felt instantly. He gently teases the ladies, and the audience, into a smooth and satisfying ending to this easy comedy.
Fallen Angels is playing at the Rose Theatre, Kingston until 1 February. For more information and tickets, see the Rose Theatre Kingston website.