Talking with Angels: Budapest, 1943

A crucifix, a menorah, the smell of incense. A single chair for a single performer, acting out her four roles. Shelley Mitchell enters this already sacred space slowly, her focus highly practised. She tells the extraordinary true story of Gitta Mallasz, a Hungarian artist who discovered faith in the most unorthodox of ways.

Mitchell is a supremely gifted and highly trained performer and her biographical source material is philosophically and historically compelling.

Mallasz and her three friends are pagans without a God. They read ancient scripture but are not beholden to a particular religion: the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita and the I Ching are all devoured in search of answers. Suddenly they receive a message: Hanna, a graphic designer, channels four distinctly different ethereal beings calling themselves angels. Theological dialogues between the angels and the artists play out in the increasingly dangerous context of Nazi Hungary and are adapted from Mallasz’s own transcripts by Mitchell, who both plays Mallasz and embodies the angels.

Mitchell’s performance is superb. She switches between Mallasz and her heavenly tutors with effortless physical ease. A slight change in posture and a subtle vocal transformation is all she needs to make the changes utterly believable. She makes it look easy but her technique is honed with pinpoint precision. She is an enigmatic presence and her characters crackle with spiritual life.

Sadly, the same cannot always be said of her adaptation. The show’s eighty minute running time is ambitious but never fully justified. The level of precision and grace on display is admirable but that should never come at the expense of a loss of focus. Too often, especially in the middle of the show, Mitchell becomes bogged down in increasingly impenetrable metaphysical philosophy, as the angels impart such thoughts as “If you listen, even the stones will speak”. Such a statement is perfectly thought-provoking in and of itself, but, coming as it does after 55 minutes of largely similar material, we stop thinking and start dreaming. Indeed, the show’s final act is propelled far more by Mallasz’s biographical story – she sheltered and saved over a hundred Jewish women and children from the Nazis in the war’s final years – than it is by the angels’ unchanging faith-based monologues.

This makes for a deeply frustrating experience. Mitchell is a supremely gifted and highly trained performer and her biographical source material is philosophically and historically compelling. However, she indulges herself too much in trying to create a shared spiritual experience that is never quite realised. When, eventually, the menorah is lit, our patience is very nearly extinguished.

Reviews by Sam Forbes

Summerhall

Borderlands

★★★★
Summerhall

The Ex

★★★★
Pleasance Courtyard

You're Not Like the Other Girls Chrissy

★★★★
Cafe Camino

Woolly Eyed Turtle 3D

★★★★
Summerhall @ Tom Fleming Centre

To Sleep To Dream

★★★★★
Zoo Southside

Quiet Violence

★★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

Performances

Location

The Blurb

A miraculous true story about four close-knit artists who, notwithstanding the upheaval of war, made detailed notes of their conversations with other worldly entities. This word-for-word account takes the audience on a spiritual journey showing us that our individuality is the gateway to our humanity. ‘A portrayal with such leisurely, lifelike timing ... Mitchell transforms into something between a dancer and a shaman. Its excruciating beauty derives from its simplicity, its purity and the veracity of its harrowing stories’ (LA Weekly). A tour de force performance where audience meets actor for a life-changing spiritual infusion.

Most Popular See More

SIX

From £29.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Everybody's Talking About Jamie

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Life of Pi

From £19.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Pretty Woman: The Musical

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Lion King

From £45.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Wicked

From £31.00

More Info

Find Tickets