TRCH Classic Thriller Season

Entertaining Angels

5 May 13 words: Adrian Bhagat
A homeless man's arrival in a village provokes soul-searching amongst local churchgoers

Entertaining Angels by New Perspectives. Pictures by Pamela Raith Photography

Pictures: Pamela Raith Photography

Stephen is a rural vicar juggling the incessant demands of his parishioners with the needs of his wife while facing the same moral confusion and sense of pointlessness that seems to afflict the Church of England as a whole. The life of a rural vicar may not seem to be the most thrilling premise for a play but Brendan Murray has, in writing Entertaining Angels, produced a story which is engaging, amusing, enlightening and interesting.

New Perspectives aims to produce work that touches the lives of people in rural communities in the East Midlands and this show will tour rural locations across the country. Although designed to be performed in village halls, with the front row of the audience sitting in pews to make us feel like a church congregation, the production didn't seem to suffer on this occasion from being performed in a studio theatre. The set made clever use of a very small space and consisted of three platforms to represent the church, the churchyard and the vicar's home. The play begins with Stephen reading a sermon in church whilst his atheist wife, Mel, sits at home and, outside, local villager Jack tends the grave of his much missed wife.

Stephen's life seems to involve a lot of preaching to nearly empty churches, arranging repairs to the buildings and keeping up appearances before the villagers. Whilst Mel is supportive of his calling as a vicar, she is resentful that she seems to be low on Stephen's list of priorities. She also is uncomfortable with the expectations of a vicar's wife and often seems on the verge of an obscene screaming fit as she tries to assert her own identity. The bane of her life is Sue, an interfering, judgmental busy-body in the worst God-bothering mould with an absolutely rigid sense of the right way to do things. She contrasts with the kindly Jack who represents those who identify culturally as Christians without feeling the need to step foot in a church more often than necessary.

Although writer Brendan Murray has avoided turning the play into The Vicar Of Dibley, these characters are, in a sense,stereotypes and you have to wonder whether there may be some nervous laughter and uncomfortable shifting in seats as members of the rural audience recognise themselves. Each villager is rounded, with a full and interesting history which is gradually revealed to us and each of them is in need of something which they lack. Stephen himself is quite a tragic-comic figure, finding that the gentle life of a village doesn't allow the opportunity to make the grand sacrifice that his sense of calling seems to demand of him. Mel is frustrated at his desire to take the problems of the world on his own shoulders and his inability to cope with the most trivial problem.

Entertaining Angels by New Perspectives. Pictures by Pamela Raith Photography

One day, a homeless man, Kevin, who is wandering the countryside appears in the church. Stephen sees the chance to do some good whilst cold, moralising Sue wishes to see the back of a man she regards as pond-life. Kevin's stay in the village challenges ideas of faith and touches the lives of each of the other characters.

To tell you too much would be to ruin the fascinating premise of the story, but suffice to say the plot is very clever and resembles a detective novel in the way that apparently innocuous details take on great significance later on, even if the parallel story that Kevin represents is taken just slightly too far. The scenes, under the direction of Tilly Branson and played by an excellent cast, are vivid and true to life, particularly the domestic scenes between Stephen and Mel. There is so much humour in the telling of the story that time flies past and it never ceases to be entertaining.

Entertaining Angels is a fantastic piece of theatre which I suspect will be much appreciated by the lucky rural communities who will see it performed and will provoke a lot of laughter and thought.

Entertaining Angels was performed at the Lakeside Arts Centre on Thursday 2 - Saturday 4 May 2013 and tours rural locations until 17 May.

New Perspectives