by Richard Everett
Players D. S
The play’s title refers to the Christmas practise of treating all guests – be they kings or peasants – as if one was entertaining angels – and the story is played out against a background of faith, loss, family secrets, confessions and forgiveness. In other words, it is about challenges faced by many families in the course of their lives whether they are Christian or not. It is a deep, challenging play, in which the actors, as well as telling their stories, have to believe in the issues and situations in which they find themselves involved. It is laced with a deal of humour, which is sometimes vicious and sometimes joyous. Apart from dealing with the death of a loved one, everyone has a problem of their own, which they are searching their consciences about, in which decisions have to be made. There is bitterness, recrimination, confession and help needed in the story and, I felt, by your interpretation, that I wasn’t just watching actors at work. Each characterisation seemed to go deeper than that.
Much of the plot revolves around Grace, who has recently lost her husband Bardolph, a vicar. She is trying to come to terms with her bereavement, and is also faced with having to find a new home, much against her will, as the home goes with the job. The bitterness and rancour she feels is exacerbated when her sister, Ruth, home from missionary work in Africa, confesses to having a son, the product of an inexplicable one-off relationship with Bardolph, Grace’s dear departed. Into this melting-pot, is thrown the fact that her daughter, Jo, is also experiencing marital problems, and Sarah, the new incumbent, is having doubts about her own suitability for the post, due to a former pregnancy, the product of an affair. Plays such as this one, carry no passengers and yours certainly didn’t, particularly when Jo noticed her mother talking to herself, not realising that Grace was in fact chatting to Bardolph, who had returned to talk to Grace, while remaining invisible to everyone else. Serious issues are involved here and the cast tackled them with realistic conviction. Their performances showed belief and evidence of the understanding of characterisation necessary to be convincing. They were at home on stage, conversations were full of light and shade and reactions to each new development were emotionally spot on. We were also aware tangibly of a feeling of team spirit among the individuals which seemed to bring sympathy, support and help to each other, even to Grace when she was in conversation with Bardolph – not easy when one knows implicitly that he is dead. How does one react to that?
The set depicted an English country garden with SL the brick wall of the house and the door into it. A large part of the stage was grass covered and a wooden fence with opening featured US with beyond it another fence, delineating the garden and visible through the opening. There was evidence of greenery on this far fence but it barely broke the height of the fence leaving this virtually unbroken line with bare white sky above. I feel the garden, colourful as it was, would have been aesthetically more pleasing if there had been foliage or greenery breaking the horizontal here and there. Greenhouse full of tools, shelves. Various accoutrements USR, facilitating Bardy’s ons and offs, DSR stream and realistic rockery with steps leading round behind greenhouse. Plenty of plants in pots distributing colour around and lighting enhanced the scene, making it easy to accept we weren’t looking at a stage set but at a summer place. There was a feeling of warmth which seemed to radiate into the theatre. Well done.
Krysy Jorgensson played Grace, the embittered widow, with fire and touching sensitivity. It was a huge part and nothing seemed to be working out for Grace. It was a role in which an actress is freed from the constraints of ensuring that an audience has to be made to like her. Krysy ran through a whole range of emotions, from sarcasm and bitterness to the extremes of rejection, grief and hopeless confusion about what the future held. She didn’t falter once, maintaining all that was asked of the character and imbuing even the darker moments with bitter humour. Her conversations with the reincarnated Bardy about the past were gentle and revealing and the story of his death sensitively handled. The final scene when she re-visits the garden for the final time, and eventual reconciliation takes place, was heart-warming. Krysy played this very difficult role with supreme confidence and flair. Well done.
Brenda Brooks was Ruth, the supposed black sheep and the sister who has kept the secret for thirty years. The very antithesis of her sister, she was perpetually busy, mowing the lawn, doing odd jobs, brewing tea. She’d been a missionary in Africa, and now, home for the funeral, felt it was time to drop the bombshell, that she had a son, Jeremy, the product of a one-off occasion with Bardolph. Brenda dealt with the confession in the most emotional of ways and I am sure we all felt how hard it must have been to “confess” and how sensitively and movingly she highlighted the years of unspoken resentment. Her performance was so detailed and truthful and, as with Grace, we were again in the hands of a skilled story-teller. I am glad there was a reconciliation at the end – Ruth deserved it. A memorable characterisation.
Charlotte Morgan played Jo, battling with marital problems herself and upset by her mother’s attitude, whilst still missing her father. She found solace and understanding in a developing friendship with Sarah, the new vicar, as she showed her round what was to become Sarah’s new home. There was a super scene by the stream where they took each other into their respective confidences as they swapped stories of affairs and of concerns which bothered them both. The drama of this scene was reinforced somehow by the motionless, looming figure of Grace, not actually in the scene, but there in the darkness – still and, as if, menacing. How did Krysy keep so still as if frozen in stone? Seemed to heighten the impact of the situation. I liked the practical, sympathetic support Charlotte’s character gave to Sarah, and the moving way she reminisces about her wedding day etc – “I don’t think I ever told him I loved him”. Most impressive later in the play when decisions had to be made – “Grace, the victim, the martyr – it’s always about you”. She showed Jo’s character in depth, full of emotion and truth. Well played.
Anne Wint played Sarah, troubled by past problems – she’d had a termination and it wasn’t her husbands’, and doubts about her ability as the new incumbent. She played the role with calm reassurance, despite her doubts, and a lovely disposition, trying to be all things to all people, and would succeed in bringing them at least a measure of what they were looking for. Watching Anne’s characterisation, I believed implicitly in her suitability for the job and I think I would have welcomed Sunday mornings listening to her. She played her role with warmth and humility and showed us an actress’s complete dedication to a role.
Chris Jorgensson was Bardolph, the deceased vicar – so comfortable and at home, pottering about in the garden. So understanding in his scenes with Grace and the advice he gave her with gentle touches of humour, went a long way to dispel her fears and distress, and, through him, we were able to see so much of their marriage. The sensitive way he dealt with his one fall from grace, putting it into its true perspective, and his musings about God and belief, showed us an actor of dedication, sensitivity and skill.
Congratulations to your director Val Middleton-Egan who drew from her cast performances of dramatic intensity and who, with them and through them, told a story of many issues with diverse strands and wove them all into quite memorable dramatic experience. A difficult play with thought provoking relevance in the world today which doubtless made your audiences think, as well as appreciate your art. Well done Val, and all who took part in any way, seen or unseen. I didn’t feel I was watching actors at work – with Val’s direction, you seemed to have taken us past that.
Enjoy your summer break. For some “it will be of too short a lease” before you have “to strut and fret your hour upon the stage again”. Never mind – just remember – “we are such stuff as dreams are made on”.
Many thanks for your friendly welcome and hospitality. Happy playmaking.
See the review HERE: