All the Angels is one of those lovely plays that combines history with a dash of humour, and adds a large helping of one of the best-loved pieces of music, Handel’s Messiah.
Even the non-musical — of whom I am sadly one — know the Messiah and hearing its greatest movements by candle light, in the intimacy of the Globe’s ornate jewel box, the Sam Wanamaker, was deeply moving. It was easy to believe the play’s assertion that God loves to hear us sing.
All the Angels tells the story of the first performance of the Messiah which was in Dublin, in 1742. It is built around Handel’s bid to turn a stage actress with a dubious past into a classical singer who can tackle a devotional work.
The spirit of Pygmalion/My Fair Lady runs through it, with a frisson of Amadeus.
Crusty, with a fine line in Irish-German invective – “fecking scheisse”– Handel (David Horovitch) is a devout Christian, beset by loneliness, failure and ill-health. He is desperate for the comfort his Messiah promises.
His salvation comes as Susannah Cibber (Kelly Price), humiliated by a cruel, feckless husband, and trying to re-build a career away from London. The third main character is a cynical ne’er-do-well known as Crazy Crow (Sean Campion) who acts as a porter for the performers between bouts of grave-robbing and who, ultimately, cannot resist the pull of the oratorio.
Eight Classical singers from a world-renowned ensemble The Sixteen — I am guessing the other half wouldn’t have fitted on the stage — play the chorus and their presence was the main pull for much of the audience.
Their first attempt at The Messiah is botched, to Handel’s despair and gentle amusement from the music-savvy audience. A very musical friend kindly explained to me how very hard it is for musicians to sing out of tune; I am available for lessons.
The actor playing Cibber is from a musical theatre background, making singing the Messiah a huge challenge for her and the effort involved, and, presumably, the worries over her ability to deliver translated into raw emotion in her voice that even I could feel.
She really need not have worried. Her mezzo-soprano was truly angelic. Moreover, given the tremendous value I place on words, I loved that I could hear every single one from her whereas I frequently found it hard to make out what the Chorus were singing, except for Hallelujah, obviously.
All the Angels was originally part of previous Globe Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole’s 2015 Winter season and his magical touch shines through.
This is what you should do with the Wanamaker.
It is the prettiest theatre around and the most uncomfortable but productions such as All the Angels keep cramp at bay and show you don’t need a Tardis to travel back in time