Theatre With Teeth’s production ‘Angelus’ is a bold and emphatic piece of new writing, which certainly lives up to Swain’s esteemed reputation. Set in the Irish countryside, the tyrannical ruling within this dystopian world shows that a red splash of paint on your door signifies an execution, and a red envelope through your door means you’re being called to be an executioner. These executioners are ironically named the ‘Angelus’, ensuring themes of religion and redemption permeate throughout. It isn’t until male lead Will receives a letter through the door of his small Irish family home that the question of morality begins to unfold, all of which is underscored by Swain’s comedy at its blackest.
‘Angelus’ is a wholly compelling show
Megan Shepherd and Roshi Grace’s production captivated me, leaving me simply wanting more. I was instantly engaged by the opening scene and the powerful family dynamics it portrayed. Introducing the authoritative father figure, Peter (James Murphy), the softly comic Grandpa (Josh Smith) whose pithy one-liners were simultaneously comforting yet dark, the refreshingly mature energy of Diane (Niamh Smith) and endearing innocence of Will (Finn O’Riordain, but in this instance Patrick Swain); the subtle nuances within the family were intriguing and thorough. Although said relationships were established quickly and engagingly, I felt that the ongoing grieving of the absent mother which was briefly mentioned, was a missed opportunity to connect with the audience from the perspectives of a child, husband or father. However, Niamh Smith’s free-spirited yet mildly sarcastic Diane alongside Josh Smith’s matter of fact Grandpa set the satirical tone perfectly from the beginning, as the line “Nothing to be done now”, with its Beckett-like existentialist tone, continued to loop in my head throughout the show. The natural commitment and conviction to their performance from learning to shoot a gun to Diane’s love interest Seamus (comically played by Harry Higginson), turned a sardonic ambiance into something more light hearted and truthful about family relationships.
we as an audience are faced with some incredibly raw and moving performances from both Swain and Butler
Unfortunately, the lead actor Finn O’Riordain was unable to perform, so writer Patrick Swain stepped up to the mark as understudy. Not only is the writing full of both comedic and meaningful nuances, but Swain’s exploration of main character Will did so too. This, when met with the initially standoffish prisoner, Sam (Chrissy Butler), enabled the moving and morally challenging plot line to explicitly unfold effectively.
The stylistic set change after the first scene to a small enclosed prison cell with red walls perfectly complemented Sam’s entrance and allowed her panic to match the developing claustrophobia for the audience too. Not only does Swain’s dialogue partly lend itself to this, but Butler’s intricate detail to her tone and body language left me not only intrigued but also sympathetic towards her. Eventually learning that Sam is in prison and due to be executed for simply having a wife, we as an audience are faced with some incredibly raw and moving performances from both Swain and Butler. The harsh reality of this is perfectly intervened by Regan, a prison officer played by Jessica Thompson, whose sweet Irish accent powerfully contradicts her satirical brutality towards both Sam and Will. The trio combine both a harrowing and comedic tone, evoking a sense of ‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore’ meets ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by contending with its mildly existentialist moral philosophy.
A bold and emphatic piece of new writing, which certainly lives up to Swain’s esteemed reputation
Thompson’s strong performance gave the final scene the tense kick in the stomach that Swain’s writing truly deserves. The relatable innocence of Diane and Seamus’ relationship, played excellently by Niamh Smith and Harry Higginson, provided more than just the naïve comedy of teenagers in love, but the very realistic and lifelike setting to this harrowing concept. Although the final scene featured some incredibly striking performances from Josh Smith and James Murphy, the play closed leaving me yearning for more clarity following such a build-up of tension. Despite this, I thought the ambiguity of the concept as a whole made it all the more intriguing, and Shepheard and Grace certainly succeeded with keeping us all on the edge of our seats!
The natural commitment and conviction to their performance…turned a sardonic ambiance into something more light hearted and truthful about family relationships
‘Angelus’ is a wholly compelling show. Not only is it cleverly executed and staged, but switches effortlessly between humour and seriousness, all at the credit of its energised and passionate cast, production team and writer. Provoking all sorts of questions about morality and control through a genius concept, it will undoubtedly captivate its London audiences to their upmost.