Farinelli and the King has so far been the big hit. Nick Drake's All the Angels is a returning show from the Dominic Dromgoole era, with a look at a particularly famous piece of music: Handel (David Horovitch) was best-known for opera but had had some embarrassing flops when the libretto to Messiah came his way. A religious choral work seemed a welcome change from opera, an art form he felt had betrayed him, while an invitation to do a residency in Dublin got him away from the scene of his humiliation, as well as a much-needed paycheck.
With only one professional soprano available in Dublin and Messiah requiring
two, Handel turns to another voluntary exile from London.
Actress Susannah Cibber (Kelly Price) is fleeing a sex scandal she was at the heart
of, and as she has some natural singing ability Handel believes he can train her up
in time. The story is narrated by Crazy Crow (Sean Campion,) who works transporting
the musicians' instruments and has a nocturnal sideline as a body snatcher. Although
there's a chorus, the play is essentially a three-hander for these characters
(except in a couple of brief scenes where Lucy Peacock and Lawrence Smith come out
of the ensemble to play supporting roles.)
Jonathan Munby directs a production that finds both the comic - Horovitch has fun
making Handel a constantly muttering grump - and spiritual sides of Drake's play,
but can't disguise the fact that it doesn't always hold together very well: It feels
quite episodic despite the small cast of central characters, and some of the
connections aren't always immediately apparent. At least Crazy Crow's significance
becomes clearer in the second act, the "resurrectionist" unable to reconcile the
beauty of the music's sentiment with his own experience of what really
happens to bodies after death.
Still, Price's singing matches her appealingly vulnerable performance, and the two
men also give good value in a play with a lot of strong individual scenes. In a
venue less unforgiving than the Swanamaker its flaws would probably go unnoticed,
but in an uncomfortable seat any moments when the play doesn't feel entirely
confident of its direction drag out.
All the Angels by Nick Drake is booking in repertory until the 12th of February at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including interval.
Photo credit: Marc Brenner.