Review – Angels In America : A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, Part 1: Millennium Approaches, National Theatre

Wednesday 19 April 2017

Over 7 hours, 2 nights and at least 3 intervals (we do not yet know how many Part 2 holds). How terribly indulgent. It’s almost as long as its title. Phil saw the original production of Angels in America at the National back in 1992, yet, still he came back for more.

25 years ago Henry Goodman played closeted Roy Cohn, Trump and McCarthyite attorney, Nixon advisor, Rosenberg prosecutor, and all round shyster-meister. Here the casting coup is Nathan Lane. Mildly ironic that Lane should be taking the Goodman role since Goodman infamously (and briefly) took over from Lane when he left the Broadway run of The Producers.

Phil was at the first preview and wasn’t going to leak until he’d seen part 2. But hey, along with the under-awarded Harry Potter thingy, this is the hottest ticket in the glittering West End, if the National is the West End (we’re never sure), assuming you don’t count Hamilton, which we won’t as it’s not open yet. So we’ll go easy on dodgy lighting with missed lighting cues, otherwise everything went pretty swimmingly.

For those who’ve never seen it, or the starry 2003 TV movie (Streep, Pacino, Emma Thompson etc), Tony Kushner‘s complex, intersecting stories about Aids, homosexuality in mid 1980’s America and a whole lot more is a throw-in-the-kitchen sink drama.

It’s chock full of symbolism and metaphors (no balloons as metaphors yet) encompassing greed, personal relationships, Machieavellian political shenanigans, guilt, religion and the hole in the ozone layer. Golly gosh. It also features mormons, ghosts, angels, snow, puppetry, stage illusions, a series of stage revolves, bum sex and, more disconcertingly, a park bench that pops up through a trap door. Gulp.

We also have Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter, a dying ex drag queen who gives us a moment of Norma Desmond complete with turban. Plus the Vallium-popping Harper Pitt (Denise Gough) who is married to a closeted Mormon (Russell Tovey). Add James McArdle as Prior’s boyfriend Louis, struggling to cope with his partner’s illness and leaking body fluids and of course Lane being hilariously horrible in Act 1, hilarious and extremely nasty in Act 2 and downright despicable in Act 3, except, that is, when he doubles as a ghost and is allowed to flounce.

Each member of the cast plays more than one role. Gough put Phil in mind of Ellen Degeneres when she was Harper and Bob Downe when she does her turn as a man. Everyone’s splendid including Susan Brown in a series of roles and Whinger-(very much) -approved favourite, Amanda Lawrence playing a hospital nurse, an old lady, The Angel and more. Garfield suffers extremely convincingly in a standout performance. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett is terrific in a scene reacting to a brilliantly-delivered stream of consciousness from Louis.

Marianne Elliott‘s production is helped by multiple revolves keeping things pacy, even if the set (which largely cramps the action to small areas at the front of the stage) is pretty unattractive to look at. Hopefully they’ll black out the wings fully so we don’t see characters and stage hands distractingly getting into position.

And since it’s set during the Reagan administration and reflects struggles with faith, racial issues, sexuality and reality many will be drawing more parallels (with today) than a Blondie album cover. If the subject matter sounds somewhat grim it still manages to be consistently funny and never less than thoroughly engrossing.

Phil’s slight nerves about the generous running time (3 hours 40 minutes at our performance) have completely vanished. He’s impatient for Part 2. Bring it on.







2 Responses to “Review – Angels In America : A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, Part 1: Millennium Approaches, National Theatre”

  1. Sal Says:

    A very evocative review – bravo! One mild suggestion – by Steep is surely meant Streep, the actress termed overrated by the currently occupant of the White House? Omitting a letter in an actress’s name recalls Alfred Hitchcock’s comment about Lizbeth Scott, that other mummers should follow the style and then we would have Rank Sinatra and Reer Garson…

  2. Eileen Bolton Says:

    Love the Bob Downe reference!

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