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Review by Emma Allsopp.
To read Emma’s review of Angels in America: Millenium Approaches, click here.
A week ago I saw the first part of Angels in America: Millennium Approaches. I was hugely impressed by it due to the outstanding performances and how faithful it was to Tony Kushner’s original script. I was very excited to see Part Two, Perestroika, as it focuses more on resolution and rebuilding, rather than Millennium Approaches, which is more occupied with tension, conflict and climax. With a longer runtime (four hours instead of three) I was concerned about whether it would actually feel slower than the first part. While it was different to Millennium Approaches, it was still thoroughly enjoyable.
Perestroika focuses on Prior Walter’s continuing struggle with AIDS and his deteriorating mental state, but also his reaction to being abandoned by his ex-boyfriend, Louis Ironson. It also shows Roy’s worsening condition, as well as his attempt to gain access to revolutionary drug AZT and his battle with the spectral Ethel Rosenberg, whom he had a hand in sentencing to death. Joe Pitt begins this play as a gay man, which leaves space for more focus on the mental health of his estranged wife, Harper.
The set was different, as the moving apartments of Millenium Approaches disappeared within the first few minutes to reveal an expansive stage. More was made of the backdrop, which remained unused during the first part. With the set being a lot more minimalist, it encouraged more attention to be paid to the characters and their stories and struggles. Everything was more exposed in Perestroika through this set change, reflecting how all the characters are now fully aware of their conditions and have lost the buffer between them and their true reality.
Andrew Garfield gave another wonderful performance as Prior Walter, working like a true professional through graphic sex scenes with Angels. Russell Tovey was, again, another stand-out performer, this time offering us a Joe Pitt who is more assured of himself and confident in his own skin after coming out as gay. Nathan Lane offered more humour – but it was also tinged with sadness – as Roy Cohn, especially in his scenes with Susan Brown. She gives a stellar performance in this second part as multiple characters, but especially the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg and Joe Pitt’s mother, Hannah. James McArdle also pulled out all the stops for the second part, bringing us more vulnerability to the character of Louis.
Overall, Millennium Approaches was more fast-paced and climactic, meaning that Perestroika is naturally slower as it is tying up all of the loose ends. However, despite this it was still highly enjoyable and entertaining. This was a more stripped-back production than the first part, which meant that it was much more intimate and uncomfortable at times. I really enjoyed the epilogue at the end of the play, when Prior, Belize, Louis and Hannah all directly address the audience about how things have changed for the gay community, and how they hope things will continue to change. It ended the play on a positive note, which was welcome due to the dark nature of the performance itself. I really enjoyed it, and would recommend everyone to watch or read it.