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The Theatreguide.London Review

The Wind Of Heaven
Finborough Theatre   Winter 2019

It may be surprising that just seventy-five years ago a mainstream West End playwright would unremarkably produce a mainstream West End play about faith, discovering one's calling, and the Second Coming of Christ in a Welsh village.

Emlyn Williams also directed and starred in The Wind Of Heaven, which is well-constructed, fully developed and marked by a total respect for its theme and characters.

It is also old-fashioned, slow-moving, talky, and concerned with issues modern audiences may have difficulty relating to.

The possibility of something unusual pending in a Welsh village draws the attention of a mix of locals and outsiders.

A big-city circus owner is in search of an exploitable new sensation, a local woman whose personal tragedies have destroyed her religious faith is sceptical, a more religious local is excited, a rational and bemused observer of life is attracted to the potential of another anecdote for his collection.

And when a local boy appears to perform miracles and, more significantly, has an air about him that generates intense reverence, each of the others reacts in thoroughly in-character ways.

The religious locals are ecstatic, the circus man instinctively makes plans to use his publicity skills to promote the Messiah, the spiritually dead woman finds a love of life re-awakening in her along with religious belief.

There are obstacles and waverings, but generally the important characters undergo spiritual rebirths that the play takes seriously without exaggerating their extent.

That calm moderation and refusal to treat the subject sensationally may well be the play's most admirable quality, but also its limitation.

Without more guidance and goading from the playwright a twenty-first century audience will have trouble being sufficiently moved by the small story of a handful of characters each affected in their own small ways by what the play is very careful to acknowledge might just be the illusion of something divine.

In the current production director Will Maynard very wisely treats the play with total seriousness and dedication, ploughing through its surface flaws to find the strength that lies in its sincerity.

The circus man is a volatile character, driven by hungers and enthusiasms that he barely suspects in himself before they overwhelm him, but is at the same time ultimately a small man, whose passions are never going to be all that great.

You can see why playwright-actor Emlyn Williams chose the complex role for himself in 1945, and here Jamie Wilkes plays him as a model of controlled excitement, capturing all the contradictions of worldliness and religious hunger, appetite and limitation, and successfully finding a coherent, believable and sympathetic character.

Rhiannon Neads takes the lost-faith woman on a quieter but no less layered journey as the slowly thawing ability to believe goes hand-in-hand with the ability to feel, faith and joy touchingly mingling in her eyes as the play progresses.

There is solid support from a large cast, notably David Whitworth as the bemused observer, Louise Breckon-Richards as a villager of simple faith, and Melissa Woodbridge as a temptress from the circus man's past.

The Finborough has a strong tradition of reviving and re-exploring lost plays of the earlier Twentieth Century. If they haven't quite found gold here, it is at least bronze and possibly silver, and fascinating as an indicator of what our great-grandparents found popular entertainment.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  The Wind Of Heaven - Finborough Theatre 2019

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