December 01, 1993


Fallen Angels
by Noel Coward
Hayley Mills and Juliet Mills

Festival Theatre

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

When it was suggested to him that his new play Fallen Angels was indecent Noel Coward replied- “The realisation that I am hopelessly depraved, vicious and decadent has for two days ruined my beaker of opium.” I have to say that the recent revival of this trifle from 1925 has ruined mine also.

Possibly someone browsing through the play fastened on the idea that there was something emancipated about two young matrons getting themselves soused waiting for their ex-beau to visit them again. It is made quite clear that at different times they’d both rogered the bloke in question and after some years of matrimony to two of the wettest men in England they rather fancy the idea again. It is hardly the raciest plot in history but a bit cheeky and absolutely of its moment. Unfortunately that moment is not ours and the result is not so much fallen angels as flopped ones.

Noel Coward’s comedy can be as brittle as crystal and no doubt caused plenty of frisson in its day but it so suavely suits its context that it is not easily transported. Private Lives can still make the distance, even Blithe Spirit can cross over, but Fallen Angels loses gravity altogether.

Director Christopher Renshaw’s production has done nothing to add urgency or zest to the text. Instead he relies on predictable business and flubby characterisations to carry the day. Casting Hayley and Juliet Mills together may well be a fine idea but Fallen Angels is not the vehicle. It is hardly ungallant to observe that both actors are at least twenty years too old for the roles of Jane and Julia. The point of Coward’s bitter little joke is that these two flappers are probably not yet thirty and they are buried alive in marriages with upper class twits. They are like a couple of restless Sloanes hoping for indiscreet phone callers or their toes to be nibbled by financial advisors from Texas.

Instead the Mills sisters work with good-natured verve but to little avail. They get to wear Colin Mitchell’s glittery twenties draperies and headbands and feathery millinery. There are yards of pearls and plenty of duet-ty gimmicks with cigarette holders but there is nothing wicked about any of it. They get tight and giggle in front of the maid and flick their food but there are only so many ways they can get themselves stuck in a chair before the audience wonders whether the play is as well.

Of the support players only Julie Godfrey has any opportunity as the eccentric maid Saunders. She provides some manic, somewhat fawlty service but there is no concealing Coward’s snobbery towards the lower orders so it all collapses into compensatory mugging. Paul Bertram and Edmund Pegge play the tweeds, Willy and Fred, without distinction and as Maurice, the objet of all the fuss, Christian Manon looks more like a mortician.

Even Colin Mitchell’s peachy decor- part deco, part japonais- has a careful sense about it. It is serviceable but with no dash whatsoever. Like everything else about Fallen Angels it has been conscientiously exhumed but no-one seems to have the faintest idea why.

The Adelaide Review, December, 1993, p.41.

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