The quiet fade-in of Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ in the closing moments of The Angel Rails flagrantly acknowledges the writer’s debt to Irvine Welsh and Trainspotting (an aspect already determined by the orange graphics in the poster), and in the process subtly denies the audience the opportunity to be critical of the derivative elements of the play. Tom Stuchfield’s writing is self-aware in its scope, and electrifying in its delivery.
The Angel Rails revolves around four strangers drawn together by death, dramatizing their grief through a series of monologues. A murder plot structures the action as the characters follow their chosen trajectory of revenge, dealing with weighty issues of ethics, love, loss, religion, sex along the way. As an ensemble, the actors work well together. The characters are distinct and well-drawn – at one point Frank (Marco Young) compares them to the classic 'Scooby Doo' crime-solving team – but despite this formula of personalities, Stuchfield succeeds in giving each substantial emotional depth and clarity. Stuchfield and Sam Brain especially are impressive in the physicality they manage to bring to a production largely reliant on voice and storytelling ability. Their embrace towards the end is powerful, breaking the stasis of the play, as the physical contact emphasises the illusory, ephemeral bonds created between the characters as the drama moves towards its bleak ending of retribution.
Stuchfield presides, chair slightly raised above the others, delivery faultless and magisterial; he shows formidable talent as a triple-threat actor-writer-director. His character, Mark, combines a poetic tenderness as he yearns for his lost flame-haired ‘Renaissance woman’ with a gritty, coarse vernacular, at one point drawing comparison between caffeine and heroin in a manner reminiscent of Irvinw Welsh’s Skagboys. He delivers some of the snappier lines, such as his comment on the somewhat puritanical Rachel (Lili Thomas), ‘She thinks her body is a temple; its not.’ Gloria injects moments of bitter comedy with her self-destructive, caustic vignettes, imparted through wisps of cigarette smoke.
Although slightly slow to gather momentum, one of the striking achievements of The Angel Rails is that, despite the physical limitations of the chosen form (it could also be well-imagined as a radio play) it does not lack narrative drive or dramatic tension. The plot can be a little difficult to follow at times, however Stuchfield’s concern is evidently characterization rather than action. In this play, Stuchfield showcases an ability to isolate detail with a vivid specificity, distilling it into speech that is peppered with literary and pop culture references and riffs worthy of Tarentino. I would whole-heartedly recommend The Angel Rails to any theatre-goer seeking an hour of beautifully-written, funny, lyrical, poignant dialogue, delivered with nuance and intensity by four excellently cast actors.