Fallen Angels at The Little Theatre Leicester
As part of celebrating 125 years of Noel Coward The Little Theatre is staging a production of one of his plays Fallen Angels. The Leicester Drama Society first put on this play in 1965. The play first premiered in 1925 and was considered shocking in its day. Possibly not so much today.
The play revolves around the lives of two friends, Julia Sterroll (Cathy Sullivan) and Jane Banbury (Ranata Maynard). Both married to respectable and predictable husbands, Fred (John Moulding) and Willy (Freddie Dobrijevic). The plot takes a humorous turn when both women receive unexpected news that their former lover, Maurice Duclos (Steven Feeney), is planning to visit them.
The impending visit causes turmoil in their lives as they reminisce about their past relationships with Maurice. Julia and Jane become anxious and giddy at the prospect of rekindling their romance with him. As the play unfolds, the women grapple with their emotions, guilt, and the consequences of their choices. It’s fair to say alcohol also plays a role in their emotional unravelling.
Directed by Jordan Handford this production of Fallen Angels benefits from a set that beautifully projects the luxurious décor of the day. Providing a context for the stylised language of the playwright. To the modern sensibility those speech patterns do occasionally jar. For example, Coward’s repeated use of ‘presentiment’ rather than premonition.
The play is very much a period piece. Reinforcing our perception of Coward as being known for his wit, sophistication, and keen observations of societal norms of the upper middle class of his day.
Having said that some of the themes explored are still relevant to today – love, marriage, and the double standards and societal expectations of women. Particularly around the pre-marital sex lives of the female characters. One question that isn’t fully explored by Coward which would be pertinent to today’s generation of Love Island and social media is whether female friendships can survive the dynamics of a love affair with the same man. It’s not clear whether Julia and Jane are able to maintain their connection, made when they were just 8 or 9 years old. Along with their relationships with their ‘safe’ husbands. Some of the questions raised in the play aren’t fully answered.
The play is tackled with a comedic touch directed by Jordan Handford. The role of the maid, Saunders, played by Charlotte Emily Beaver, is a source of comic relief and her role nicely helps to complicate the plot. The verbal interactions between Saunders and Julia show a lightness of touch from the actors requiring good timing. Credit to Charlotte for her singing – her voice is fantastic.
Fallen Angels is I think a brave choice for The Little Theatre. It’s not one of Coward’s better-known or indeed performed plays. Whilst parallels can be made to the issues of today, I’m not sure how accessible the play is to a younger contemporary audience. Coward’s work had a very distinctive theatrical voice which firmly locates it in a set period of time. If you like that style and sensibility or if you’ve never seen any Coward plays then it’s worth a night out at the friendly Little Theatre.