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ALL THE ANGELS Handel and the First Messiah by Nick Drake at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London's South Bank

Published by: Elaine Pinkus on 9th Dec 2016 | View all blogs by Elaine Pinkus

Hallelujah! As part of its 2016 festive candlelit musical events, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is repeating its successful 2015 run of Nick Drake’s ‘All the Angels: Handel and the First Messiah’ in the wonderful intimacy of this atmospheric theatre. Emma Rice, Artistic Director had said ‘After an acclaimed and celebrated run last year, I know that I wanted to bring this wonderful production of Nick Drake’s All The Angels back to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.’   Directed by Jonathan Munby, this is a play deserving of its re-run with an increased number of performances over the previous year.

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Before its performance in Dublin in 1742, Handel rehearsed some of the music of Messiah above a pub in Chester. He had been on his way to Dublin when bad weather forced him to delay his journey. The play opens with a grumpy, grumbling George Frederic Handel (David Horovitch) berating the local choir for their less than satisfactory rehearsal of his oratory.  Handel’s original casting was chosen simply from those musicians and singers who happened to be available to him and these are recreated spectacularly by Kelly Paul, in her role of the singing actress Susannah Cibber, desperate to re-invent herself after a disastrous sex scandal in London, and eight choristers comprising four ensemble (Saskia Strallen, Lawrence Smith, Paul Kemble and Lucy Peacock) and members of The Sixteen. With voices soaring to the accompaniment of Michael Haslam’s quartet, the tale of the organic growth of this renowned oratory unfolds under the lively and lyrical narrative of Sean Campion in his role of Crazy Crow, porter and part time ‘Resurrectionist’ (aka body snatcher).


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Handel composed Messiah in little over three weeks but it was never ‘finished’ in the true sense of the word. He continued to develop and adapt the piece, which culminated in multiple versions. As such, this work of wonder, holding great power and strength, remains mystical and does not fail to reach the depths of one’s soul. This is emphasised in Crowe’s torment and frustration that despite the magic of the piece that promises such hope, he must return to his poor and pathetic existence.

Campion is to be congratulated on his splendid performance. At each turn he embodies the essence of different characters – at one time the scruffy porter/resurrectionist Crowe, at another Charles Jennens the librettist and another William Cavendish the theatre proprietor. His is a master class in acting and he is entirely convincing in his different roles. Reminiscent of Eliza and Professor Higgins, Kelly Paul and David Horovitch interact perfectly and we can see her blossom before our eyes into the soprano of this piece.

Although a serious dialogue, there are moments of humour which lift the production and raise guffaws among the audience. Horovitch in his grumpy and somewhat sarcastic asides appeals to the audience’s sense of fun. In particular his reference to the critics of the day as ‘gargoyles’ was not lost on the number of press who were attending – good fun. Additionally Crowe’s justification on ‘moonlighting’ because of his poor pay and zero hours contract resonated with today’s audience and such poetic licence must be allowed.

This is a perfect Christmas production in a perfect setting, deserving of its rapturous applause. ‘Christmas, candlelight, Handel and Messiah – what more could you want.’ (Emma Rice)  Halelujah to that!

All the Angels – Handel and the First Messiah by Nick Drake

Performing at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse 6 December 2016 - 12 February 2017

Photographer Marc Brenner

Shakespeare’s Globe



Phone               +44 (0) 20 7401 9919

In person          Mon-Sat 10am-6pm (8pm on performance days)

Sundays           10am-5pm (7pm on performance days)


Tickets               £5 - £45 (Globe Theatre) £10 - £62 (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)





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