In anyone else’s hands Noel Coward’s Fallen Angels would be a downmarket farce featuring a couple of sex-starved middle aged tarts with one thing – and one man – on their minds.
But this harmless bit of fluff is a cut above that and set among the upper classes in a swish Mayfair apartment. No-one drops their trousers although both leading ladies lose their inhibitions in a memorable drunken dinner party.
The comedy opened last night at the Royal & Derngate and showed that this 90-year-old classic is still capable of raising a titter.
The Angels in question are posh totty, life-long friends and neighbours, Julia (Jenny Seagrove) and Jane (Sara Crowe). Their dull but worthy husbands have gone off on a golfing weekend leaving them to entertain themselves.
A pretty boring couple of days were in the pipeline until both ladies receive telling postcards from a sexy young Frenchman who had affairs with both women years before they met their intendeds.
From there it becomes a bit like Waiting For Maurice with both expectant women behaving like a pair of giddy schoolgirls, panting with desire at the expectation of their lover’s visit.
Before long they’re drunk on lust, and copious amounts of champagne, and the pair really let their hair down in one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen in years. They’re flyweights, getting ridiculously in their cups on just a few glasses of fizz, but it becomes increasingly riotous as the night wears on.
One of the women makes the physical comedy look effortless while the other has to work hard at it. I’ll leave it to you to work out which.
The comedy is directed by Roy Marsden (my favourite cerebral TV detective, Adam Dalgliesh) and he gets the best out of the cast, delivering a sparkling performance from both leads. It’s a bit slow to get going but soon hits its stride after a bottle or two.
Playing drunk is notoriously difficult but both Crowe and Seagrove hurl themselves, at times literally, into it with gusto. The slapstick may be a trifle crude for Coward but it’s deliciously madcap.
Watching the women, with a pronounced look of disdain, is ladies’ maid Saunders who is a model of efficiency. Gillian McCafferty gives a beautifully restrained performance, striding about the set delivering martinis and expert advice on everything from hangover cures to French translation with infuriating accuracy.
Sadly the sexy Maurice doesn’t have a large role in the drama but his ooh la la entrance makes most of the elderly women in the stalls give out an audible sigh (which he acknowledges with a knowing Gallic wink). Philip Battley is extremely easy on the eye and thoroughly enjoys his moment with both Julia and Jane rubbing up against him on the sofa like bitches on heat.
Fallen Angels is everything you’d expect from Noel Coward’s pen and is a fun night out. Seagrove, with slicked back hair so solidly waxed down that it is unlikely to move all tour, is a little out of her element in a comic role, but she warms to the part by the interval.
Ms Crowe is delightfully funny and not afraid to make an ass of herself. The pair certainly had me laughing.
The comedy runs on the Royal stage until Saturday and tickets are available from the box office 01604 624811 or visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk
Fallen Angels also comes to Milton Keynes Theatre for a week from March 18. For tickets call 0844 871 7652 or visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk