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Review by Emma Allsopp.
I read the entirety of Angels in America last year for a university module, and immediately fell in love with it. With the full title being Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, it is no surprise that Tony Kushner’s play is an astonishing commentary on the AIDS crisis of the 80s, as well as Reaganite politics. When I heard that the National Theatre were performing and streaming it I was so excited, but also intrigued. With so many surreal elements I was interested to see how it would play out onstage.
The first part of the play focuses on revelations in certain characters’ lifestyles; such as coming out as gay or developing AIDS. The National Theatre dealt with these plotlines well, more or less sticking to Tony Kushner’s original script. The large amount of integral characters was handled wonderfully, with the performance moving seamlessly from one group to another. The set certainly aided this fluidity as it physically moved to show different apartments and locations for each group of characters.
The standout performance was Andrew Garfield playing Prior Walter, an openly gay man who develops AIDS and immediately becomes very ill, physically and mentally. Garfield handled Prior’s descent into illness very well, especially when he begins to see apparitions of angels and his ancestors (also called Prior Walter). He completely and utterly embodied the character of Prior and was highly captivating. Russell Tovey was also impressive as Joe Pitt, a married Mormon man who comes out as gay. Tovey is a reliable actor anyway, but he suited Joe perfectly and delivered a great performance. Nathan Lane is also worth mentioning due to his spot-on interpretation of the powerful, but closeted, Roy Cohn. He brought the power and ‘clout’ which perfectly matched his performance.
One thing that I was apprehensive about was the runtime of the of the whole play, with Part One (Millennium Approaches) being three hours and Part Two (Perestroika) being four hours (both with two fifteen-minute intervals). Due to the length of both parts I was worried that it would make the audience restless, but I could not have been more wrong. By the end of Millennium Approaches I felt that I could have immediately watched Perestroika. It was wonderfully paced, with the two intervals breaking it up into three easily digestible one-hour chunks, just like binge-watching a television show.
Overall, I was highly impressed with the broadcast. It was engaging on a wide scale with everyone in the audience laughing along with the humour, and feeling sombre when tragedy struck. The National Theatre perfectly realised Tony Kushner’s technically and intellectually challenging script with ease. When reading the play, I interpreted it to be saying that the conservative Reaganite agenda made America unhealthy, whether that be through AIDS or mental illness, and this resonated even more powerfully in light of America’s current political position. I would advise everyone to read or see Angels in America at least once, it is a relevant piece of literature and I cannot wait to see Perestroika.
Keep your eyes peeled for Emma’s review of Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika!