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The Angel of Death


The depiction of Death as a skeletal figure carrying a large scythe and wearing a black cloak with a hood first arose in 15th century England, while the name “the Grim Reaper” entered popular culture centuries later.  But how was the Angel of Death born and how did he become this culler of souls?

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Matthew Briggs and Josh Heaysman’s musical The Angel of Death – set in Elizabethan England at the time of the Spanish Armada – explores Death’s origins and what it means to have an afterlife.

What if, after your death, you could become the personification of the Grim Reaper and return to earth? What if you were suddenly confronted with the reality of all the events that led to your murder and betrayal by your spouse? What if death is only the beginning?

There are intriguing questions at the heart of this new musical comedy, based on a book by Briggs, but the execution is disappointingly wishy-washy.

The Angel of Death (Theodore Girgolas) is resurrected in the afterlife. God (Nicholas Miotti) and The Devil (Sophie Atkinson) cannot agree on who should be allowed into heaven and hell, but are invariably thrown together due to war, plague and due process.  So they allow Death – aided by a book of instructions – to decide mortals’ final destination.

It becomes apparent that an assassin (Maddison Sales) murdered Death – when he was a mere farmer – on the orders of his wife Margret (Emily Gerretsen), who is head of a Nazi-feminist-satanic cult.

The somewhat convoluted central conceit is actually handled rather stylishly. Briggs’ direction finds its sweetest moment towards the end of the first half, when his lively and willing cast sing “What’s Worse than the Plague?” in a rather amusing way that’s reminiscent of Monty Python mixed with Horrible Histories.

But in so many other songs, the music falls flat; at times, the words are inaudible, and some are even sung out of tune.

A few jokes hit their target and the characters are all enjoyable – even plausible, considering they are caricatures. Arguably, Kymberly Jones (Queen Elizabeth I) had the strongest vocals on opening night, and her song “Off With Their Heads” is one of the highlights.

The Angel of Death is a decent show and the premise is approached with thoughtfulness, but as an audience member it was difficult to feel truly involved.

Briggs & Heaysman Theatre Co is presenting The Angel of Death at the Bakehouse Theatre until January 30. Recommended for ages 15+.


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