ALL THE ANGELS, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, SE1

THEATREKITTEN CHARLOTTE VALORI GETS THE CANDLELIT HOTS FOR HANDEL

Although Messiah was always planned for Easter, its glorious Hallelujahs have inveigled it into our Christmas canon of musical treats; and to gather together in winter to watch a theatrical exploration of the making of Messiah, by period-perfect candlelight, with the sumptuously polished choral execution of The Sixteen and a gorgeous consort of instruments, is definitely a treat. While some of Nick Drake’s writing can be irritating, with rather too many cheap laughs in the first half, All the Angels is a fascinating, moving examination of the power of music to inspire, to challenge, and to regenerate souls, as well as an unnerving glance at the strange intimacy between composer and singer engendered by the rehearsal process, which often unearths deep private pain to heighten the public effect of art.

A giggly Press Night audience took some time to settle into a serious appreciation of the piece, and of Drake’s compassionate vision of Handel, played with gruff emotion and nicely sour humour by David Horovitch. Horovitch’s tempestuous, vulnerable composer steadily gained command over stage and spectators alike. We come to love Handel for his cynical resignation to the present, as well as his generous hopes for the future of music, as he encourages the young Charles Burney (Lawrence Smith), and works tirelessly with the fragile Susannah Cibber (Kelly Price). Permanently terrorised by the spectre of the Italian prima donna Signora Avoglio (played with a comic Italian accent and sung with deliberately shrill tone by Lucy Peacock), Cibber battles with her own confidence as a singer, and faces her deeper fears about her moral authority in her audience’s eyes in the wake of a lurid sex scandal, in order to believe the mercy and redemption implicit in Handel’s music can extend to her.

Sean Campion displays assured versatility as he switches smoothly between Oirish ne’er do well Crazy Crow, the warm and optimistic Lord Cavendish, and Handel’s brittle, intense and peculiar librettist Charles Jennens, fishing hats or wigs from boxes on the manuscript-scattered stage. Drake seems to favour Crazy Crow as his play’s emotional crux, returning regularly to examine the effect of Handel’s music on this self-proclaimed lost soul; however, Crazy Crow relies on such an exhausted Irish trope that it’s all too coarse to hold real interest for long. The growing dynamic between Cibber and Handel, Cibber’s battles with herself, and Handel’s supreme and passionate commitment to his art, are what keep us thinking all the way home.

– CHARLOTTE VALORI

Four mice: 4 Meece Rating

At the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse until Sunday 12 February 2017

Box office: 020 7401 9919

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