At a time when we’re being overloaded with fresh and innovative ways to share creative content, it feels like a welcome break to go back to basics as the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and Pitlochry Festival Theatre have with Mark Ravenhill’s new audio-drama, Angela. The radio form fits the piece perfectly, instantly evoking simpler times and inviting you to draw on your own memories and experiences. This stunningly pared-back production acts as a quiet moment of reflection as it chronicles Angela’s turbulent journey into motherhood and her all too familiar struggle with dementia.
Angela is Mark Ravenhill’s first autobiographical work which focuses on the life of his mother; the ups, the downs and the cultural references that so strongly shaped the household Mark grew up in. The piece is far gentler and less confronting than the work Ravenhill is famously known for, which only enhances how deeply personal it feels. Angela is a love letter to a mother, a study of the expectations of womanhood and an honest portrayal of the complexities of memory, both in and outside of illness.
The play follows Ravenhill’s mother, Rita, who from an early age decides she’d much prefer to be known as Angela. We share in small, domestic moments from her past that have an influence on the woman she is today. Meeting her husband, getting pregnant, finding common ground with her young son. All of this leads us to meet an older Angela, struggling with dementia and battling to make sense of old memories and past dreams. Ravenhill himself features as a character in the piece; a mere snapshot of the lives Angela has helped mould and the devastating effects of a failing memory on those around her.
Angela is played beautifully by Pam Ferris, displaying in equal parts fragile confusion and fleeting rage. Matti Houghton depicts the more naive, hopeful, young Angela to stunning effect. The two performances complement each other perfectly and highlight the pain the other characters feel that the two people no longer appear to quite match up. Toby Jones provides an equally tender performance as Angela’s husband, Ted. Though for me, a stand out performance in its sheer restraint was that of Joseph Millson as Mark. In only a few very short scenes Millson manages to capture the stark reality of supporting a family member with dementia. It’s not only a credit to the performance, but also to the strength of the writing. The production is accented by a wonderful sound design by John Scott and a simple, yet appropriate, score by Alexandra Faye Braithwaite, which not only draws upon the balletic themes that run throughout but also smoothly lead you through to the play’s emotional conclusion.
Angela is a sophisticated and sensitive piece of work, perfectly suited to its form and beautifully executed by its creators. There’s a calmness that runs throughout, a familiarity in the life Angela leads, and a relatability that feels rare in such a fast-paced world.
Review by Dan Reeves
Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and Pitlochry Festival Theatre in collaboration with Naked Productions present
By Mark Ravenhill
Director Polly Thomas
Assistant Director Emma Lynne Harley.
Composer Alexandra Faye Braithwaite
Sound Recordist Louis Blatherwick
Sound Design John Scott
Older Angela – Pam Ferris
Younger Angela – Matti Houghton
Mark – Joseph Millson
Young Mark- Jackson Laing
Ted – Toby Jones
Julie, Nurse 1, and Plummy Woman – Nadia Albina
Doctor Adetiba, and Director – Dermot Daly
Doctor Mansoor and Plummy Man – Raj Ghatak
The Fox and Doctor Carter – Olivier Huband
Angela’s mum, Ballet teacher, Nurse 2, and Ivy – Alexandra Mathie
The Social Worker, Ballet woman and Nurse 3 – Kirsty Stuart
Angela is a Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and Pitlochry Festival Theatre production in association with Naked Productions Ltd and BBC Radio 3 for Sound Stage.
Sound Stage commissions were made possible with support from Creative Scotland through its Performing Arts Venues Relief Fund