Review: Angels & Insects
Venue: York Theatre Royal, April 18
I must confess, I was not familiar with former York student AS Byatt’s story Morpho Eugenia, upon which Angels & Insects is based, but I have vague recollections of seeing Patsy Kensit in a mid-Nineties film version. York Theatre Royal and Useful Donkey have combined to produce a two-person version of a complicated and multi-faceted story.
It tells the story of an Amazonian explorer and entomologist who returns home penniless to Victorian England to be taken in by a wealthy aristocrat. While cataloguing his benefactor’s collection of insects, he falls in love with the beautiful and mysterious daughter of the household. But then the apparently perfect family facade slips, and some grim secrets emerge.
Director Juliet Forster needs two strong, reliable actors to bring this stage adaptation to life, and in Joanna Hickman and Jonathan Race she has them. I last saw Race stepping into the formidable shoes of David Leonard in the Theatre Royal pantomime, but here he displayed a completely different set of acting chops (literally, sporting excellent sideburns!).
It is a hard task to play the narrator of a complicated story and the lead role without it becoming messy. But Race brought a charm and wit to his performance which allowed the audience to connect with a fairly long list of unseen characters without having to resort to caricature.
The dual role of Matty and musical accompaniment is one performed by Joanna Hickman with great passion. The performance requires both flamboyant musical skills and a reserved, almost brittle charisma, which Hickman pulls off with aplomb.
The performances, though excellent, would be nothing without the beautiful set design and props. I have to give major credit there: without giving anything away, the design team earned their money.
That the play runs for the best part of two hours with no intermission is a credit to the whole production team. Not once did I get bored or feel ready for a break. A couple of pretty intense performances, without so much as a glass of water, is a testament to the actors’ abilities, and at the end I overheard one audience member use the word “exquisite” to describe it.
I didn’t go quite that far, but I urge anyone with even the slightest leaning towards drama to check out Angels & Insects, an excellent night at the theatre.
- Angels & Insects is at the Theatre Royal until Saturday, May 4
- Tickets, which cost £8 to £12, are available from the theatre’s website