The scenario of two women getting completely drunk together and talking about the men they like and those they don’t is just par for the course in 21st century Britain; a typical Friday night on the tiles.
But, back in the 1920s, this scene depicted on stage in a Noel Coward play was seen as shocking and a good few uncomplimentary names were aimed at the show’s central female characters.
Something of this time is perhaps suggested in Coward’s title for the play, Fallen Angels. Fortunately, the gentle comedy of the work eventually won audiences over which is probably why, this week - many decades after it was first penned - I was lucky enough to see it performed at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate.
Starring Judge John Deed actress Jenny Seagrove as Julia and Four Weddings And A Funeral star Sara Crowe as Jane, the plot focuses on the friendship between the two women and the events that unfold when they find out that a mutual former lover is coming back to visit them both.
Both are married to nice but passionless husbands, who prefer playing golf together than paying attention to their wives.
Little do their husbands suspect, when they leave their spouses at home together for an evening, how much the prospect of a return visit from a single, handsome, Frenchman threatens their domestic harmony.
The play starts slowly, with an extremely wordy scene about love, involving Julia and her husband Fred. Fortunately the momentum and ‘watchability’ of the action is almost immediately lifted by the entrance of Jane, with her news of an impending visit from Maurice Duclos.
What follows is an hilarious first half, which sees both women dining together on oysters, Champagne, cocktails and more than a few home truths. As they become more and more dishevelled and inarticulate, the humour grows and a genuinely funny farce ensues.
I have to say that, while Jenny played her part well, giving the due amount of attention to some tough pieces of physical humour, Sara’s experience as a comedy actress really shone out, completely lighting up the stage.
One facial expression or clumsy movement from Sara was enough to reduce the audience to peals of laughter as she revelled in the melodramatic and deeply tempted nature of her character. Her experience in playing Coward’s work to a high standard was very obvious.
Although dominated by the two leading ladies, the secondary characters also helped to generate plenty of the comedy. Gillian McCafferty showed comedic flair in playing Saunders, Julia’s overly-accomplished maid. Philip Battley also demonstrated the right amount of good looks and arrogant swagger when he finally made an appearance as the long-awaited lover Maurice.
Well worth a visit for a theatrical evening of laughs, Fallen Angels comes highly recommended. The play will run in Northampton until Saturday. See www.royalandderngate.co.uk.