The last time I shuffled through the Garrison Theatre doors was to see the Aladdin pantomime in December. Giddy children were blowing the house down with banshee-shrieks in between gobbling sweets until their bellies brimmed and bloated.
It was a little more sedate and decorous, however, on Thursday night as the Islesburgh Drama Group presented their rendition of Noel Coward’s comedy play Fallen Angels. There were no boos and hisses – or genies – but there was still a whole lot of laughs.
The three-scene show, which was written in 1923 and set in a London flat two years later, pirouetted on two ladies – Julia Sterrol and Jane Banbury – frustrated by their pallid, loveless middle-class marriages. Aside from their friendship, the women shared common ground in the form of the enigmatic Maurice Duclos, who both counted as a pre-marriage lover from bygone years.
The Frenchman told them that he’ll be in town – co-incidentally when Mr Sterrol and Mr Banbury are away on a golfing trip. Cue the wives, embittered by their passionless spouses, going weak at the ol’ knees as they hope Duclos will visit.
Desperate housewives indeed, and what ensued was pretty engrossing stuff. Morag Mouat excelled as the theatrical Julia Sterrol, often lording the Garrison stage with aplomb, whilst her counterpart Jennie Atkinson similarly went at her role with gusto, with both mouthing regal patter that befitted the play’s era.
It’s a three-act affair, but it was the middle scene that the Andy Long directed play truly came to life. With the husbands hitting bogies on the golf course, Duclos was possibly on his way – leading the ladies, now tarted up in their lush evening outfits, to prepare with a tipple. And another. And another…
What ensued was chuckle-out-loud stuff as the alcohol-fuelled women, once demure and stately, regressed into rabbiting loons, echoing Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances – but on a Friday night at closing time, with a champagne stained blouse.
Shoes were flung off, they danced like scarecrows and regularly bumbled to the window or the phone to see if their French darling had arrived. Jealousy and competition got the better of them, however, with verbal volleying and quarrelling soon dividing the squiffy pair.
Duclos, played by stand-in Andy Long after John Haswell cancelled through bereavement, reared his head with a valiantly portrayed Gallic accent at the end of the final scene, but it seemed the play, oddly enough, was dampened by the Frenchman’s grand entrance. His conspicuous absence previously drove the narrative and, perhaps most importantly, fed the woman the hysteria that made Fallen Angels so endearing.
The men – played by Stanley Manson and George Webster – were second-fiddle to the ladies, merely providing a vehicle for their frenzy, whilst the diligent maid (Zoe Galbraith) kept her master Julia in check with quick quips and notable knowledge.
Its subject matter meanwhile – pre-marital sex, affairs and a foreign lover – was provocative when the play was first produced, but in the 21st Century, it’s pretty tame stuff. The women’s penchant for fur, perhaps, was the most shocking thing there.
Nevertheless, this sharp Islesburgh Drama Group production was amusing and superbly acted by a modest local cast who found their feet playing some pretty arresting characters.
It’s worth the admission fee, however, for act two alone. Underneath the drunken bumbles and stumbles was some pinpoint wit and wordplay that sent the punters home happy, regardless of the somewhat unsatisfying ending to the play.
Next up for the Drama Group is Babes in the Wood in the winter, but they’ll have a tough job trying to top this.
Fallen Angel, Garrison Theatre, 28 and 29 March, starting at 7.30pm.
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