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All the Angels: Handel and the First Messiah review at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – ‘beautifully performed’

Sean Campion and members of Genesis Sixteen in All the Angels: Handel and the First Messiah at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Photo: Marc Brenner Sean Campion and members of Genesis Sixteen in All the Angels: Handel and the First Messiah at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Photo: Marc Brenner
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All the Angels, Nick Drake’s choral play about the first public performance (in Dublin) of Handel’s oratorio, Messiah, was first performed in the Sam Wanamaker in 2015, as part of Dominic Dromgoole’s final season as artistic director.

Drake beautifully explores how music can be redemptive but cruel, raising hopes of a better world in its listeners, sometimes against their better judgement. With the characters of Handel, leading lady Susannah Cibber and Dublin porter Crazy Crow, Drake gives us a trio who are all seeking salvation.

The three leads from the original production have returned for this revival. They are the emotional linchpin for the passages of the Messiah performed by alumni of British choral group The Sixteen’s training programme. The spellbinding orchestral effect is enhanced by the Wanamaker’s candle-lit stillness.

As Handel, a fish out of water in Dublin, David Horovitch is withering and moving. His rumbling delivery evolving into a bark of frustration at a slew of professional and personal knocks. His thorny relationship with Kelly Price’s Cibber, reeling from scandal and full of self-doubt, drives the play.

Sean Campion’s scene-stealing Crazy Crow acts as both our narrator and as characters like Messiah librettist Charles Jennens. He’s the irreverent voice of the backstreets, initially emerging from a trapdoor.

He has little time for higher pursuits. But, almost in spite of himself, the Messiah makes Crazy Crow dream of more. And director Jonathan Munby’s production deftly captures this tension. Shifting between spiky humour and sublime contemplation, it brings to life the complicated, transporting power of music.

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Verdict
A beautifully performed exploration of the relationship between life and music
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