REVIEW: Angels in America

The expert ensemble features Andrew Garfield, Denise Gough, Russell Tovey and Nathan Lane. This marks the play’s 25th anniversary which received its British premiere at the National Theatre’s Cottesloe in 1992 and is made up of two parts, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika.

So, without further waffle, here are six things I learned while watching Angels in America at our Royal National Theatre.

1. Nathan Lane is on fine form.
From its first beat Millennium Approaches exhibits a striking command of its characters who are all pursuing their sexual and public destinies. We meet American Attorney Roy Cohn. “Hold,” he barks into a phone. Turning to Joe (Tovey) an ambitious, bisexual Mormon Republican legal clerk. “I wish I was an octopus, a fucking octopus. Eight loving arms all those suckers. Know what I mean?” This is an incredible part, which calls out of Lane an incredible performance. The writing is extremely tight. Roaring, cursing, jabbing and crazed, Lane incarnates all that is forceful and reckless in Cohn’s frenzied pursuit of power. Lane injects an astounding level of energy into a performance that is portrayed with Jacobean menace and personifies the barbarity of individualism. Well done, Nathan.

2. The others are amazing too.
Twenty-four characters, eight acts, fifty-nine scenes and an epilogue. Both plays are triumphant. Make no mistake this is a defiantly theatrical piece of work that is of monumental proportions. Russell Tovey brings a quietly enigmatic performance as a closeted Mormon. Equally Denise Gough as his pill-popping wife is bleak and trembling. Gough is knocking out a magnificent performance that takes a brutal look a relationship where everything’s gone tits up. Andrew Garfield is very good as Prior, who has AIDS. He makes you notice the difference between a character, not the differences the actor brings to a show.

3. Perestroika is the messier but more fascinating of the two plays.
Part 2 dexterously steers its characters from the sins of partings of the eighties to a new sense of community in the beleaguered nineties. Rather refreshingly Peresrtroika ends by celebrating community not individualism, arguing with a spooky serendipity of the spirt of the new Clinton era. For me, it flows beautifully between realism and lucidity. To witness it is to recognise the foundation of many playwrights’ daring as well as being fitfully brilliant.

4. Marianne Elliot: What a woman.
Is there a more gifted director working in the theatre ‘milieu’ than Marianne Elliot? That was a rhetorical question, obviously, because there really isn’t. Elliot is in the business is making Actual Theatre (see The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night Time and War Horse), and smoothed edges come with the territory. Actual Theatre is a meta-genre whose gravitational pull reels in everything from orbiting genres and does whatever the hell it likes with the raw materials. Elliot’s staging of an angel crashing in through the roof and a hallucinogenic trip to Antarctica is alone worth the price of a ticket.

5. There are some remarkable cinematic sequences.
The sheer size and scale of this production produces a unique energy in the plays already cinematic scope. The design is *a bit* marmite; neon-lined door frames, sets revolve like a wedding cake and the rising central set pieces complement Ian Macneil’s design. However, the design poses more questions than it answers. Two questions above all others: ‘Why is everything so dark?’ and ‘Why all the neon?’. But it’s worked wonders for the PR campaign and artwork– and maybe that’s the only answer you need. Two or three genius moments will stay with me until the day that I die. These moments are effortlessly enchanting, and of course, they aren’t effortless at all – this is military theatre – but there’s a feeling of relaxed charm to most of these moments, and it’s a feeling many directors find hard to engineer.

6. It’s quite long isn’t it.
The act of endurance becomes charged in an epic 8 hours (2 play day) that is sometimes uncomfortable, often electric and ultimately irresistibly life affirming. These plays cover territory that range from conservative politics, heaven to earth, the AIDS epidemic and compressing, in its fanciful sweep, the sense of confusion and longing that defines American life.

N.B. 8 hours sounds shit, right? Not shit at all, in fact.

Basically, it felt like a genuinely special theatre experience, and when was the last time you felt like that about a thing?

The show is sold out for the entire run. However, you’ll be able to see Angels in America sooner than you might be expecting as it will be broadcast to cinemas across the UK and internationally via NT Live; Part One on 20 July and Part Two on 27 July , and when you do hear it make sure you let me know what you think because this is a two-way street, you know.

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes is at the National Theatre, London, until 19 August