The Wind Of Heaven
By Emlyn Williams
The Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW 10 9ED to 21 December 2019.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr 25 mins. One interval.
TICKETS: 01223 357 851.
Review: William Russell 29 November
Not performed for 75 years The Wind of heaven has Williams in Scandinavian mode. As a playwright he was – although many of them were set in Wales, his native land – wide ranging in his work which ranges from the thriller to romantic. It enjoyed a modest run opening in 1945 just three weeks before the end of the last war with Williams and Diana Wynyard leading the cast. With its look at the aftermath of a war and the hope of something new for a society traumatised by what had gone before with the return of possibly the Messiah it was very much of its time. As for Scandinavian, well this is a world of repressed women and phoney men which has echoes of Ibsen. Williams was nothing if not a playwright of great versatility even although his best plays tend to be set in Wales.
As always the Finborough has done a service resurrecting it for today’s audience and as usual with a first rate cast and this time in particular a fine, evocative set. The challenge the Finborough space presents designers is invariably risen to but this time Ceci Calf has created a superb set which, while it cannot meet the demands laid down by Williams, somehow encapsulates them all in miniature. The play is peformed traverse fashion with at one end a large window beyond which much of the action in the village of Blestin takes place, and at the other a pile of Victorian furniture topped by a dolls house, almost certainly the home in which the unhappy widow Dilys Parry lives. It seems to encapsulate her world.
The Crimean war is over. She lost her husband in it and their child died. The village too has lost men in the war, its children in a boating accident and lost its faith in God. But something is happening in these Welsh mountains. There is music which seems to come from nowhere. A boy, child of the woman who works for Dilys, seems to have miraculous powers. A cholera epidemic is raging. He cures someone and the community starts to rediscover its faith. Into this cauldron of emotions comes Ambrose Lake, a Barnum type circus owner and showman, intent on signing up the boy and exploiting his gifts. What follows is the battle between him and Dilys and the rest of the community for the child, an enigmatic figure who appears from time to time, as wounds are healed and the trauma of that mishandled war starts to lift, but says nothing.
It is a long, possibly over long, play and might have benefited from some cutting but Will Maynard has secured fine performances from his cast, especially from Rhiannon Neads as Dilys, a buttoned up woman who refuses to let anything touch her emotions, and Jamie Wilkes as the predatory Ambrose, arguably the one most affected by what happens. It is an evocative staging, the rhythm of the story is there, and strong support is provided by David Whitworth as Pitter, who treats the goings on with rational common sense, Seiriol Tomos as a villager who beieves, and Louise Breckon-Richards as Dylis’s housekeeper and mother of the mysterious gifted child.
Although handsomely dressed it was far from clear why Ambrose’s wife, an even more predatory person than he is, a glittering personage played to the hilt by Melissa Woodbridge, who erupts into the action mid play, should be wearing pantaloons. Perhaps a costume malfunction. The Finborough had a hit with Williams’ Accolade about a politician in trouble because of his private life. Whether this latest revival will do as well is anybody’s guess. It is a far more ambitious and difficult piece. However in a world where faith in those who rule has been destroyed and people are looking for new leaders to rescue them, which was very much how it was in 1945, it may well do so.
Menna: Kristy Philipps.
Dilys Parry: Rhiannon Neads.
Bet: Louise Breckon-Richards.
Pitter: David Whitworth.
Ambrose: Jamie Wilkes.
Evan: Seiriol Tomos.
Mrs Lake: Melissa Woodbridge.
Gwyn: Benedict Barker/ Bruno Ben Tovin.
Director: Will Maynard.
Designer: Ceci Calf.
Costume Designer: Isobel Pellow.
Lighting Designer: Ryan Joseph Stafford.
Composer & Sound Designer: Julian Starr.
Composer & Musical Director: Rhiannon Drake.
Production Photographs: Stefan Hanegraaf.