Entertaining Angels at the Festival of Chichester

New Theatre Productions at West Dean Gardens. Barbara MacWhirter and Dennis Harrison. Photo by Derek Martin
New Theatre Productions at West Dean Gardens. Barbara MacWhirter and Dennis Harrison. Photo by Derek Martin
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One of the great successes in recent Chichester Festival Theatre history will be revived by New Theatre Productions this summer.

And highly appropriately, it will be transplanted to the English country garden the play itself demands.

Entertaining Angels, by Richard Everett and directed by Carol Hicks, will be at the Pergola Open Air Theatre, West Dean Gardens on Tuesday, June 27, Thursday, June 29, Saturday, July 1, Monday, July 3, Wednesday, July 5, Friday, July 7 at 7.45pm – alternating performances with The Drunkard or Down with Demon Drink!, directed by John Hyatt on Monday, June 26, Wednesday, June 28, Friday, June 30, Tuesday, July 4, Thursday, July 6, Saturday, July 8 also at 7.45pm.

Director Carol is delighted to come to it free from memories of having seen Penelope Keith in the play’s central role at the CFT back in 2006.

“I didn’t see it. I prefer to come to things fresh. I don’t want to be picking up subconsciously on what other people have done. I regard that as a bit of an advantage to see things fresh!

“We spent a lot of time this year looking for plays, and in particular I wanted something that would be quite simple to stage. The play is set in the garden of a vicarage, and West Dean is so beautiful that we wanted to make full use of the garden and not to have lots of sets.

“It is a fascinating play. It has an awful lot of challenges. It has got humour, and it has got tragedy, and it is very dramatic. There are moments where the humour and the seriousness are so close together. I think it is a great challenge for an actor and certainly for me as a director. I think it is marvellous, and it all rips along at such a fantastic pace. I love the fact that it has got it all, faith, betrayal, love, sex… it is all there, and it is all there in very close proximity. There are just a few seconds before you go from the one to the next.

“The main character is a lady who has been married to a vicar for a very long time and she has just become a widow. She is facing life on her own, and she is also facing the thought of no longer having to fulfil the function of the vicar’s wife which has to a certain extent defined her. She encounters the new vicar and she is accompanied by her sister and her daughter, and the play reveals for all those characters what has happened in the past that has affected them and that turns out to be not quite what they were aware of. And in her memory and in her imagination, she has conversations with her late husband…

“Grace is a lady with a terrific sense of humour but she is also a woman who has subsumed herself to her husband’s career for a lot of her life. She has moments of deep bitterness but also moments of feeling freedom from the constraints of being a vicar’s wife.

“The cast are absolutely fantastic. I love acting, and it is something that I will always want to do because I feel I have a natural feeling for it, but I also love directing, the fact that you have to have a vision for the whole thing, thinking about the staging, the acting, the music, the lighting, everything… making sure that everything comes together…”

Picnics welcome. Bring your own, or they can be pre-ordered 24 hours in advance from the West Dean Gardens restaurant, which is also open for pre-theatre supper or drinks until 7.30pm on theatre nights on 01243 818215. Tickets £10; under-16s £8. Disabled access.

Tickets Chichester Box Office, The Novium; 01243 816525 or 775888.

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