Fallen Angels by Noel Coward
Auckland Theatre Company
Until March 15
The Seven Year Itch is the time at which passion fades and only love remains. It is the point in a marriage when husband and wives stray or think of straying. This is the exciting prospect or challenge that Julia and Jane face as falling angels in the latest Auckland Theatre Company’s offering, Fallen Angels.
Both of them had passionate (and separate) affairs with Maurice seven years ago before they were married. But now the Frenchman has sent them postcards to say he is returning to London and hopes to see each of them.
The middle-aged women are turned into swoony teenagers at the thought of another affair. As Julia says, “why should men have a monopoly on sowing wild oats.” But who will it be with? Should they go or should they stay?
They spend a night waiting for Maurice to arrive reminiscing about him, Pisa and Venice, getting progressively drunker and attended by the maid, Saunders, while their husbands are away for a couple of days of golf.
The morning brings revelations to both the wives and the husbands.
Fallen Angels is not one of Coward's most witty or acerbic comedies but director Raymond Hawthorne has excelled himself in turning a mediocre work into a brilliantly crafted, stylish comedy of manners.
He has managed to combine all the best elements of Restoration comedy and French farce, injecting them into Coward's crisp dialogue and witty one-liners to produce an uproarious evenings entertainment.
He manages his magical creation mainly by having two superb leading ladies with Lisa Chappell (Julia) and Claire Dougan (Jane). They hold the play together with sparkling dialogue and flamboyant acting, as they explore the boundaries of pre-marital and extra-marital sex as well as the limits of friendship.
The three men, Stephen Lovatt (Fred) ,Stelios Yiakmis (Willy) and Jonathan Allan (Maurice), provide exceptional back-up. Lovatt is particularly energetic with his Monty Phythonesque silly walks. Priyanka Xi as the maid Saunders does great job as the one sensible person in the play. The fact that her employers prefer Saunders to her real name, Jasmine, is just another clever little notion about people not being all they appear to be.
Tracy Grant Lord’s stylish 1920’s set provides just the right level of elegant veneer that mirrors the lives of the two women. The large framed mirror provides something of a metaphor for the play with its distorted reflections of the audience in its fun fair mirrored surface.
The one problem with the play is the ending. Any competent playwright or member of the audience could have come up with a more complicated and outrageous denouement.