Over recent weeks, it’s been difficult to miss the publicity for Theatre with Teeth’s Angelus. After all, what person, seeing the image of the noose on that blood-red background, wouldn’t be intrigued to know what the play is about? With a few more clicks, you find out what is promised; a “splitting new play that deals with loss, morality, and the pursuit of redemption”, written by Patrick Swain. Judging by the size of the audience at the opening performance, I was certainly not the only person to be curious about this new “dark comedy”.
The futuristic universe of Angelus, though chilling, is every dystopian-lover’s dream. Red paint dashed against a house means execution; a red letter through the door marks out an executioner. The seven characters in the play find themselves tangled up in this fearful system, allowing the audience to consider it from seven different perspectives.
This is a truly exciting premise, and one which translates the recent public appetite for dystopian novels into a theatrical context. However, to really do this idea justice, I feel that the play could do with a little more clarity. While I always appreciate the art of subtlety, and dislike plays that are overly didactic, I only came to fully understand the distinction between the red paint and the red letters towards the end of the play. Although it didn’t seriously hinder my overall enjoyment of the play, I did occasionally cross the boundary from intrigued into puzzled, something which could perhaps have been avoided by some more background information in the earlier scenes.
Each character was highly nuanced, and most came complete with backstories which influenced their portrayal. I felt that each cast member was convincing in their character portrayal, and the quality and consistency of the Irish accents was also rather impressive. Patrick Swain, who stepped into the role of Will last-minute due to illness, should be applauded for fitting in so seamlessly with the rest of the cast and production with so little preparation. Furthermore, the characters of Grandpa (Josh Smith) and Peter (James Murphy) were particularly enjoyable: the former for his impeccable comedic timing, the latter for such a persuasive performance, and both for their unexpected and haunting song during a particularly tense moment of the play.
Angelus promised to be a “dark comedy”, yet I feel that it is better described as a dark play with comedy. There is something about the odd juxtaposition of purely comedic moments with death scenes that doesn’t sit quite right. If the humour used was black and satirical, it would align much better with the serious themes of the play; however, as it is, Angelus slides between comedy and despair. Nevertheless, it must be said that the jokes and frequent one-liners did hit their target – so, if my concept of the ‘dark play with comedy’ was the writer’s intention, then it can be deemed a success.
In terms of staging, Angelus utilised the restricted space of the M&D room well, and the illusion of a prison cell, created through the positioning of two flats, was particularly interesting. It was slightly disappointing that the lighting obscured the sudden throwing of paint against the window, as I’m sure this could have otherwise been a significant and shocking moment. Nevertheless, the few minor issues with stage and transition did not detract from the overall performance, and the set overall complimented the play nicely.
When Angelus ended after a duration of only an hour, I was so fully invested in the characters that I left wanting to see more. And so, despite my few concerns with the play, it is undeniable that Theatre with Teeth have produced a gripping and exciting play, which has both promise and an excellent premise.
Angelus continues to be performed in the M&D room tonight and tomorrow (Thursday 15th and Friday 16th).