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June 2004
Angels Among The Trees - review

Giles Croft
Writer: Jonathan Holloway
Cast: Tony Bell, Emilio Doorgasingh, Elaine Donnelly, Nicola Harrison, Caroline Lennon, Dominic Letts, Stephen Lucas, Jonathan Melia, Jonathan Melia
Nottingham Playhouse
Saturday, 5th - Saturday, 19th June 2004
£5 - £19

Angels Among The Trees
Angels Among The Trees

This tragic true story in all its grizzly horror manages to make us question our own humanity.

Review by Anna Cookson

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In 1846 America, the way to fame and fortune was not Big Brother or American Idol, it was to go West. To find California: The Promised Land.

Thousands trooped across the Plains of America that year, among them the so-called Donner Party. Angles Among the Trees relates their tragic history in all its grizzly horror.

Not for the faint hearted, it is a production about desperation in the face of snow, no food, human error and yet more snow.

Director Giles Croft distils an epic journey of when the American Dream becomes a nightmare. And yes, they do end up eating each other.

We’re led through a series of doom-laden events to a catastrophy that still makes me shiver when I think about it.

Historically dense, the play isn’t helped by the schizophrenia among the cast – there are just nine actors for 26 roles. But what we lack in detail we gain in effect.

Scenery and lighting combine to create not just a stage set but a landscape. Vast planes transform into an arctic wilderness with real(ish) snow and even, beneath the stage, the hellish cabins of hunger.

The stunning panoramas tell a monologue all of their own and juxtapose the beautiful with the revolting, shocking events on stage.

But this play does more than shock, and whilst I will, no doubt, be having nightmares for weeks, it is also a play about decisions, about historical truths and, the ambiguous ‘human condition.’

Whilst reviling at the multiple forms of greed depicted on the stage and whilst the scenery conjures a place far beyond the plush blue seats of the Playhouse, we cannot truly distance ourselves from the behaviour we see.

When people do things that seem to defy human nature we can but question our own humanity.

Scores : 4/5

Ask the audience...
quote Magnificent staging but too few actors playing too many roles. I ended up not knowing who was who. This left me with no real connection with, or empathy for, any particular character. quoteMike Young
quote The story was thought provoking but would have suited a film better. quoteSarah Julian
quote While keeping my attention and interest thanks to some good acting and a 'pandora's box' of a stage, the lack of any real lead character prevented me feeling much sympathy for the pioneers' plight. quoteDave Jackson
quote I must admit to getting pretty lost as one bloke in a beard became another bloke in a beard. quoteDan Sinclair
quote Hugely ambitious and challenging, full of surprises. I wish it'd been a little cooler in the stalls! quoteNeil Heath
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