Adapted in 1953 by Sam and Bella Spewack, from Albert Husson’s play Les Cuisine des Anges, My Three Angels is set in the French Guiana prison colony in 1910. It is a rambunctious tale of three convicts on work release who offer to repair the roof of a struggling home supplies store managed by the feckless Felix Duchotel. The plan is to systematically steal his stock before making off with the proceeds.
Instead, as they watch the good-natured Duchotel and his wife and daughter get further into financial and emotional strife with the arrival, on Christmas Eve, of the shop’s bullying owner, Felix’s cousin Gaston LeMare, the convicts – Joseph, Jules and Alfred – decide to bring their various special “skills” into play to ward off the impending crisis.
Independent Theatre’s founding director Rob Croser has brought together a lively cast for this intricate, and often outlandish farce.
The extensive set, designed by Croser and David Roach (and handsomely lit by Adam Hawes) is carefully detailed in rattan and bamboo with wooden louvre doors for the many hurried exits and entrances that the ever-complicating plot requires. The costumes by Sandra David and Angela Doherty faithfully capture the Empire stylings of 1910.
With so much exposition and incident to navigate, Croser manages the pace and comic timing well, especially in the second half where the actors find their stride, as does the increasingly funny script.
The performers rise to the task. Greg Janzow is both dithery and staunch as the well-meaning Duchotel, Lyn Wilson clear-minded and yet fond as his patient wife, while Emma Bleby, as their daughter Marie-Louise, discovers that the path of true love never runs smooth, especially when presented with her unpromising suitor Paul (Henry Bleby Williams).
Independent’s veteran actor David Roach is positively beastly as Gaston Lemare, expertly goading both the audience and the unlikely angels of restorative justice.
Much depends on the convict trio and they deliver. Eddie Sims does well as the impetuous but increasingly protective Alfred. Leighton Vogt gathers impressive comic momentum as Joseph (the role played by Humphrey Bogart in the 1955 film version, We’re No Angels) as he turns the fortunes of the business around. His salesmanship, creative accounting, and expert forgery all prove key to the plan.
As Jules, the culinary wiz and diplomatic intermediary, Stuart Pearce is also excellent. Mention should also be made of Adolphe, the caged viper whose unseen role in the plot is rivalled only by the asp in Cleopatra.
Held back by COVID from their program last year, My Three Angels makes a welcome visitation to Independent’s list for 2021.
My Three Angels is playing at the Goodwood Institute until April 17.