National Theatre, Lyttleton – until 19 August 2017
Angels in America has got to be one of the National Theatre’s most eagerly anticipated productions and one of the hottest tickets in London right now. The production boasts a line-up of incredible stars with the entire run sold out apart from lottery and day seats. Due to the sheer size and epicness of this play, it is rarely staged so seeing this revival from director Marianna Elliott is a once in a generation opportunity.
The show is big. The glossy A4 programme is big, the set is big, the cast names are big and the length is big. So much is packed in and the scope of the production and the ideas within it are vast, and although slightly overwhelming at times, it’s an extremely well put together and a mesmerising production.
The cast includes Broadway’s Nathan Lane, Olivier-winner Denise Gough, NT stars Russell Tovey and James McArdle and film star Andrew Garfield, who had performed in shows at the NT before heading to Hollywood. The acting is utterly sublime, with ridiculous talent and confidence that is breathtaking throughout.
Tony Kushner’s two-part play tells the story of the emerging AIDS crisis of the 1980s as it hit the gay community in New York, by as cast of both real life and fictional characters who are living through it. Both parts are dense but liberating in the way they play with form, moving from domestic realism to hallucinatory fantasy, especially in part two Perestroika.
Part one, Millennium Approaches is full of angst and drama but is extremely humorous at points. A homeless woman chaotically exclaims “In the new century I think we will all be insane”, when get to part two, Perestroika, twenty-five years later we see that that premonition may have come to be.
Nathan Lane manages to have both our hate and sympathy as the vicious, closeted lawyer Roy. Denise Gough lives right up to her superstar name and she embodies the role of the drugged out, angry and upset, Harper, giving a mesmerising performance. James McArdle is wonderful as the infuriatingly sensitive Louis. Russell Tovey brings pain and innocence to the confused Mormon Republican Joe and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett is fantastic as Belize who is perhaps the only sane one of the group. But it’s Andrew Garfield who steals the show. He is breathtaking as the shows lead, Prior Walter. Garfield is intense and committed to the role with just the right amount of wit and grit to make this somewhat wacky character come to life in perfect colour on stage.
Although the context of Angels in America is different in 2017, especially with regards to AIDS, the play feels extremely relevant and the revival couldn’t have come at a better time. The action looks back at the time Reagan was in office and studies his right-wing policies which are scarily analogous with Donald Trump’s. This makes everything even more resonant and emphasises the fractured America where opinions on gender, wealth and race have unfortunately not changed.
This play is unlike anything else, with a mix of angsty, sardonic, gloomy surrealism which is a roller coaster from moment one. There are so many moments of shock that jump out like an endless stream of consciousness and it’s really like being inside Kushner’s brain as his thoughts vomit out. Although that doesn’t sound particularly pleasant, it really is. There’s something magical and truthful about the craziness. This play is not likely to be seen again in the near future and this production of the modern masterpiece is sure to stay with everyone who sees it until the next one comes about. Angels in America is epic but the most important thing is that it promotes discussion and remains relevant.
Angels in America will be broadcast to cinemas by NT Live from 20 July.