Theatre of Angels
New End Theatre, Hampstead, and touring
The observation that 'we can seldom control how we are perceived by others' is topical; if we cannot control this perception while living, then what chance do we have after death, particularly in the (often) unforgiving medium of print?
Writer Martin Sharp explores physical and spiritual legacy in the life of Dorothy Whitney Elmhirst who, as a young heiress from one of the world's richest families, was forced to confront both early loss and the heavy weight of gain through a life of inherited wealth; a prospect seemingly delicious in theory, yet harbouring the universal, human dilemma of how to find meaning in life, and to make one's life have meaning.
A dialogue-rich, two-hander requires listening investment from its audience, made easy here by simply splendid acting directed by award-winning Maria Pattinson, a supporter of new writing, who achieves an intimately moving and fluid encounter between a woman driven by literature, love and spirituality, and a man whose own demons lead him to favour the harder worlds of history and psychology.
Kathryn Pogson (Dorothy) is a celebrated, award-winning theatre, film and television actress - and it shows; we meet her character in the Bahamas, writing memoirs whilst convalescing, her crisp 1950's summer dress, soft mid-Atlantic accent (lime cordial on the side) encapsulating a privileged world that has brushed shoulders with the rich and famous.
And it is a privilege to witness an actress at the top of her game in what could pass as a master-class in how to register a gamut of emotions in just one glance; and to use the 'fourth wall' and stay in the moment so successfully that feeling is not merely 'acted', but felt.
Kyle Riley is perfectly cast as the biographer, enslaved to his mobile phone, assuming a dazzling range of accents and characters vivifying the men in Dorothy's life; his somewhat sinister access to diaries, letters, and telegrams revealing a desire for fictional 'sound bites' rather than truths and confirming her dread that dear and painful remembrances will be rendered as trivial sensation.
There is a 'twist', and whether you 'get it' at the beginning, or much later (as I did) it is worth the wait and I guarantee you will think about it afterwards. Whilst the second act could be a little tighter, the play is a success, demonstrating how the lives of others can tell us much about our own, as characters and audience discover.
The play leaves Hampstead with only two performances remaining on this national tour (July 3rd, Newport, Isle of Wight and July 4th, New Milton, Hampshire) which sadly makes this review more of a retrospective, but I would urge readers to go along while they have the chance.
Dorothy's legacy would be the creative space of Dartington Hall in Devon, still active today; the promise of a dedicated run for a play and actors of this calibre, at a theatre such as the New End (rather than just one night) would be a worthy legacy indeed.
Reviewer: Anita-Marguerite Butler