Times change and with them the morals of society too. And as those change some aspects of playwriting often lose their impact, after all, by today’s moral barometer two women contemplating adultery whilst discussing pre-marital sex seems nothing out of the ordinary. But when Fallen Angels first hit the West End it did so only because of a personal intervention from the Lord Chamberlin who overturned its blacklisting and granted a licence. It seems hard to believe today but such is the blend of farce and poignancy, of silliness and astute social commentary that lies at the heart of Noel Coward’s writing.
But even if such concerns have been lost to time what remains is a great piece of theatre. Siting somewhere between the gentle satire of Wodehouse and the more florid writing of Wilde, Noel Coward’s Fallen Angels, a play about marriage, fulfilment, friendship and (possibly) adultery, still speaks to a modern audience. It doesn’t hurt to think of Fallen Angels as being Abigail’s Party for simpler times.
The premise is straightforward. Two women in functional rather than passionate marriages learn of an old flame being in town and with their husbands away on a golfing trip thoughts turn to the amorous adventures of their single life. As the drinks flow their schemes and machinations of how to get away with a romantic fling becomes all consuming. And it is around this idea, which dominates the second act, that the play revolves and the (mainly) two hander between the wives is a joy to watch.
The two female leads journey from formal first-course meal etiquette to almost a drunken brawl, is particularly finely realised, with some wonderfully pointed interplay between best-friends-turned-rivals-in-love Julia (Sarah Lewis) and Jane (Ella Thomas). Thomas’ performance is full of well executed comic flourishes and Lewis gives us some impeccably timed hysteria.
The fact that the production lacks the budget of the London theatres for which it was intended makes for some wonderful added visual jokes. The meal around which the second act revolves is represented by sliced, white bread and bottles of ketchup and in a later scene a restorative tonic becomes a can of energy drink. Work arounds that add additional humour for the modern audience in a way that I’m sure Mr C would have approved.
Amy Westwood as the servant Saunders adds another comic dimension with some deadpan, droll touches, wonderfully balancing the pomposity that is being played out around her. Husbands Richard Wilde and Adam Edwards-Bond are comparatively straight men, though the latter relishes the chance to over play the silliness that the role demands and Wilde provides an element of understated warmth.
Overall a superb production, and although almost one-hundred years since its first outing, its themes are still relevant and the laughs all come in the same places. Maybe times don’t change that much after all.