Angel House, New Wolsey, Ipswich
Sad dads are in abundance in this drama of West Indian immigrant life in a tower block whose presiding spirit seems to be Lucifer.
Lee, a crack addict, lashes his teenage son with insults and a belt. Lloyd, estranged from his wife after years of philandering, has ignored Frank, a drug dealer about to go down for five years, and Stephen, an entrepreneur who seeks to get ahead by selling out his own people. Even Desmond, an old sweetie in a cardie and cap, is loathed by his daughter, who will not let him see his grandchild.
The latest play by the astonishingly prolific Roy Williams (18 produced and six in the hopper), Angel House is an mirror of the lives of many West Indian immigrants and their children. Its bland and sketchy writing, however, adds little in the way of fact, atmosphere, or emotional colour, to what we know. The string of two-actor dialogues becomes monotonous, and the tone is low-key, even glum, with characters turning away from each other or staring at the floor in Paulette Randall's production for Eclipse Theatre.
It is not until well into the second act that we are confronted with a matter of urgency – Frank's need to find out, before the dealers higher up exact vengeance, who gave him away to the police. But this plot strand suffers from the same problem as the parent/child relations: neglect, followed by rhetoric. Williams also seems hesitant to explore the personalities of his three women characters, who occupy the narrow range between saintly and irritating, chattering throughout the men's sexual approaches and belittling them afterwards.
The beautiful and majestic Claire Benedict brings some snap to the play whenever she appears, as a ladylike Jamaican immigrant who is nevertheless so disgusted by her feckless husband that she tells him, "you wouldn't know consequences if it run up through your backside."
Geoff Aymer's Lloyd provides the evening's one moment of passion with an outburst of helpless rage. At this moment, also, Angel House lets slip its mantle of earnest social concern to touch real, unruly life.
Touring to 5 April (www.wolseytheatre.co.uk; 01473 295 901)
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