The Angel Rails
WILL DALRYMPLE finds plenty to praise in this new piece of student writing.
ADC Theatre, 11 PM, April 30th – May 3rd, £6/5.
‘The Angel Rails’ charts the lives of four people who have been robbed of friends and family following a train crash. The four actors sit in armchairs on the stage and rarely move, each taking turn to tell the story of how they joined forces to punish the driver of the train and restore justice to the world. The set is simple and unintrusive, while the lighting does its job as well as it should, with a neat trick towards the end.
Stutchfield’s play is ultimately a character piece. The script avoids being bogged down in the well-trodden ground of bereavement, meaning that the characters are defined by who they are, rather than what has been taken from them in the accident, giving the actors more freedom to explore their roles. The brief flashes of humour keep the characters engaging, in particular Mark and Gloria, though several bits of comic relief missed the mark. While the play wastes no time in getting to the heart of the characters, its real trick lies in the slow but deft revelation of the relationship they share. Most impressively, despite their differences in age, wealth and personality, and the fact that they never directly interact with one another, the bonds they share are utterly convincing.
That’s not to say the story isn’t key to the production, unfolding like a revenge tragedy as the bereaved inch their way towards the ‘closure’ and ‘justice’ they hunger for. Stutchfield’s emphasis on character and the engaging performances mean that the narrative progression creeps up on the viewer, allowing the plot to surprise, buoying the play well. However, the balance between character exploration and plot progression does occasionally slip. Because the first 15 minutes or so deal with setting up the characters and the general premise, the long gaps between plot developments do leave the play dragging a little in the middle, though it soon gathers momentum.
The performances rarely fail to impress. Sam Brain immediately engages as the earthy, unapologetic Gloria, though perhaps the sheer volume of the script does at times mean that she stumbles over certain lines a little too quickly. Stutchfield himself also brings a similar warmth and likeability to the widower Mark, displaying good comic timing. Marco Young struggles a little more than the others to match his amiable style to the wordy script, however, when it is called for, the whole cast ably reveal the unsettling side of their characters, in which respect Young excels. Special mention must go to Lili Thomas for her dazzling portrait of the middle-class, god-fearing Rachel, her confident delivery doing nothing to undermine the tight-lipped, hysterical vulnerability of the character.
‘The Angel Rails’ is a play that is brave, chiefly because it asks a lot of its audience. Though we are required to concentrate for the duration, our concentration is rewarded and we are given the ‘closure’ promised to us by Mark at the beginning. This is bold, surprising theatre, and definitely worth a look.