Purgatory. That’s where the play is set; and that’s where I found myself, sitting, soaked through, in the cavernous, unheated Cockpit Theatre – you could see the actors’ breath: I was, therefore, especially looking to be warmed by the drama, immersed in the “bonkers black comedy” – just as the show billing tells us.
No such luck, I’m afraid, with Angels With Dirty Accents. It’s basically the Faustus story – man sells his soul to the devil – convoluted to such an extent that any interest one might have in the rough-sleepers to whom we are
introduced is bludgeoned out of us by the ceaseless proselytising from a group of quasi-religious freaks who have apparently inherited this particular patch of earth. It may be bonkers but it ain’t black and it sure as hell ain’t comedy.
There is no writer’s credit – the play is “an original show by RKID productions” – so who on earth penned the interminable ranting speeches which express a kind of New Age cod morality that make Scientology seem like a good bet?
We have Saint Peter (I think he’s a saint), we have Gabriel (Archangel, of course) we have Saraquel (no, me neither) and we have a group of quirkily named street-dwellers (Snatch, Squid and Pleb to name but three) who are actually angels. Of course. And not only do these angels have dirty accents but they cannot converse with each other unless every other word is a shouty expletive of the “F* S* P* C*” variety which is all very fine and authentic and all that but it doesn’t half grate after a couple of hours. So wearing, in fact, I almost started wishing for another elongated purgatorial rant as light relief.
Almost. And sprawling over the whole proceedings like a demented daddy longlegs on psilocybin is Asmodeus, the Devil incarnate, who starts as a street drug dealer and – I’m thinking – here, in Alex Eagles, we have a very good actor. Brooding, under-playing with flashes of sarcasm, this is an interesting character. But when he reveals himself in his full Luciferian glory after the interval, skinny torso decorated with felt-tip occult imagery, sporting unwieldy giant bovver boots and oversized furry black leggings he sacrifices the devil-goat persona for pure Beelzebubbian ham, shouting, screeching, bawling, caterwauling like he’s auditioning for Decibel Breakers (a new show I’m pitching to Channel 5). All the angels are in morbid fear of him for why I couldn’t quite see – unless they thought he might topple over and crush them.
The show is very much presented in monochrome, there’s no light and shade, it lacks nuance and when everyone is either a devil or an angel – i.e. no actual “real” people – then there’s no-one to identify with. And, to quote Tom Stoppard in The Real Inspector Hound, “Where is God?”! Conspicuous by His absence we do at least get a large scribbled sign delineated in UV light saying “The End is Nigh”. Great, I thought. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near nigh.
Far from “looking at the state of homelessness” as the producers claim, the show seems to be being sucked into a moribund morass of street-life morality – a modern-day slough of despond (sorry, Slough). Once in, the show can’t
extricate itself. The street-bound angels are all seeking a get-out-of-purgatory-free card but heaven, we are informed, is oversubscribed. There are good intentions here but they founder on the rocks of a committee-led
script that lacks a single defining voice to give it the direction and purpose that it badly needs. The smattering of songs – mainly pop standards with the words “heaven” or “angel” in them – are welcome but do little to relieve the tedium.
The play is, supposedly, about redemption. There is, I’m sorry to say, very little to redeem it.
Review by Peter Yates
With an immersive set, a cast of eleven, some bizarre characters, moments of naturalistic dialogue and complete absurdism, undercut by well known and ‘heavenly’ songs, this promises to be a unique theatre experience.
The show centres on the lives of angels. Penniless, hopeless, and sleeping rough in our city centres. Ignored by passers-by, and waiting for their chance to get into heaven. But waiting is a hard game to play. Especially when heaven has tightened its immigration policy and the streets have begun to offer so much temptation.
Angels With Dirty Accents 31st January – 17th February 2018
DURATION: 2hrs SUITABILITY: Ages 16+ (contains strong language and adult themes)