Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Angel House

Roy Williams
West Yorkshire Playhouse, The New Wolsey Theatre and Birmingham Repertory Theatre as part of the Eclipse Theatre Initiative
West Yorkshire Playhouse and touring
(2008)

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Although the aim of the play is to examine three generations living in the same block, the heart of the play is the old story of Cain and Abel, good and bad, bright and dim, new culture old culture - brothers in conflict. Nothing wrong with that, there are few if any new stories coming to light. But there are endless ways to dress up old stories and endless ways of telling them.

Here we are in London's black community, three generations, and a block of flats - ripe for redevelopment thinks smart Stephen (played by Richard Blackwood). The kids and the crack head (Joseph Kpobie, Tendayi Jembere, Curtis Cole and Chandra Ruegg) have other concerns - crack and the turbulence of puberty. The oldsters (Claire Benedict and Geoff Aymer) have mixed views, they'd really like everything to be as it was when they were struggling with puberty. But Stephen's brother Sean (Mark Monero), the ne'er do well, about to go to prison, shopped by Stephen, embodies the moral and deep emotional conflict. Look after mother, look after the kids, and kids, you make a better job of life than we have...

The set is all broken windows, broken concrete and rusting girders (which act as illuminated bill boards to tell us where each scene is set). And the story telling is irritatingly episodic in the style of soap opera. But at least soap has a range of sets. Here we are treated to Pickford theatre with two stage hands in hoodies forever moving the sofa and chairs.

With the kids in particular there is a real sense of 'it's their turn for a scene' - these pointless interludes are only saved by the high quality of acting, particularly by Chandra Ruegg. Ruegg struggles in the shadow of Pauline Tate to give a fascinating performance as a possible pre-teen girl, then doubles into Chloe, Stephen's posh partner.

In fact the play is carried by some excellent performances. In particular, along with Ruegg, Claire Benedict as the mother trying to hold her family together in a crumbling culture is wonderful, moving through a range of emotion without overplaying. And Mark Monero, embodying the moral debate, gives a powerful performance, both menacing and moving.

The audience (with far more than usual black faces) clearly enjoyed themselves, and the play did have its good moments and good lines. But all in all I had a strong sense of déja vu.

Until 22nd March, then touring to Salisbury and Northampton

Reviewer: Ray Brown