NT Live: Angels in America Perestrokia

So after last week’s adventure (see here) as long as there were no Apes involved things could only get better at the second NT Live screening right? Right.

As I saw the production ‘Live’ again this weekend an actual reflection on my continuing thoughts on the play are here, while this post just thinks about NT live and capturing the play on film.

I’m happy to report there were no ‘Apes in America’ this time around, and aside from momentary sound glitches there were no technical issues until the very end…where for about 20 seconds something very strange went on with sound and picture in Harper’s monologue…now I always cry in that scene but it would have been for very different reasons this time. But luckily all was well.

But to continue my NT Live related waffle from the Part 1 review also; a few minor technical glitches are a small price to pay for getting to see these broadcasts. Particularly Angels which by being a) two parts b) extremely in demand (understatement of the year?!) is very hard to see. And for those who didn’t make it, there are Encore screenings in September. And of course, I urge you to go.

And so how was Part 2? firstly, I’ve given up any pretence of this being a ‘real’ review. Like Millennium I found the cinema experience incredibly intense, and that the productions and performances had altered greatly since I saw it in previews. Now here’s a little secret: Perestroika is my favourite. I feel bad, firstly because I spend a lot of time insisting to people that they are in fact one play. And also because for me picking a favourite is akin to picking a favourite child. But if I had children to pick, it would be the weird slightly unhinged one I’d love more. So Perestroika it is.

But what that also means is nearly all of my favourite scenes are in it. Which is a lot to live up to, for someone so emotionally invested. And I think my companion for the evening and frankly anyone around me would agree I got emotionally invested. Now, like Louis I ‘cry way too easily’ but I’ve never been that much of a crier at Angels but this time around I sobbed. There’s no other word for it. At one point I squeaked. An actual honest to god squeak. Part of this I think is the intimate nature of the filming, it’s hard enough to watch everyone go through hell, harder still in close up.

What the broadcasts for me allowed too was a way to notice new things, to relax with the pressure of not using up a ‘chance’ seeing it live off, I could take in moments, lines choices again. And the detail, and although sometimes frustratingly prescriptive camera gaze, forces a noticing of things too. For me though it was the writing that stood out, having now seen it all once I found myself zoning in on Kushner’s writing. Particularly as I know the play backwards and basically ‘hear’ it as I go along, on the revisions in the text (yes I do hear that in the Angel’s voice). For those unfamilar, Kushner has never left the text alone and the latest revised verison was completed in 2011 (barring continued minor tweaks for performace) I know this version the least well. The version committed to my memory is the 2007 version, so it’s fascinating now hearing a slightly altered version of a well loved friend. For me, and my admittedly ridiculous level of knowledge was really fascinating, I was noticing old word I’d forgotten and new tweaks and changes I didn’t know- which sometimes was jarring. In fact it was jarring to the point I must confess I though James McArdle had messed up a line/scene (sorry James, should never have doubted you). Those moments aside though, I just remember a feeling of ‘these words just sing’ and how really remarkable Kushner’s writing is.

For those keeping score, I made it through Act  1, 2 and 3 (Though the combination of Joe’s ‘Then you’ll come back’ and Louis’ ‘I want to see you again’ are like a knife to the heart). I’d forgotten however just how relentless Act 4 is and by the end of that I already felt exhausted. Despite having welled up a few times, I’d kept tears at bay. I should have known it was going to be bad when Nathan Lane got me with his ‘You’ll find what you love will take you farther than you dreamed you’d go’ line…and by the time Prior was confronting the Angels I was gone.

There is a level of intensity and difference the filming brings to the text, and it’s no bad thing. It’s different sure but it doesn’t detract- one element I was worried about was losing some of the ‘magic’ that Marianne Elliot has created with Part 2 that is inherently theatrical. And while in some respects the effects are lessened when viewed through a lens, it’s overall such an intelligently filmed version that what you lose in some ways is gained in others. The chance to be that intimate with the actors in quieter, emotional moments makes up for losing the full impact of some of the theatrical quirks. That said so much of it is captured perfectly, and in fact the view the cameras get from above the Lyttleton circle gives a full view of that expansive stage and Elliot’s use of it that many in the theatre don’t get. I also noticed some beautiful images created on stage that my cheap seats downstairs didn’t show, so there’s a real advantage and beauty to this filming. Finally, when during the Epilogue the camera panned right out, showing Prior on the expanse of stage, house lights up I was truly overwhelmed with both the play, and the way it had been captured.

And once again, for this super nerd, having this play, and particularly this landmark production captured so wonderfully was nothing short of a dream- yes a dream. When I was scrambling around for hints of past productions, using black and white stills and stage manager’s notes. When I was begging an archive to let me in and watch the New York production.

(Here’s a couple of those, including Jason Issacs and Daniel Craig ….for science)

And now it’s preserved forever. And it’s also being put out there for so many more people to see. And that’s why I keep chasing after this play, because it’s important. Because I want people to see. I convinced I think 4 people to see the broadcasts this time, who now all love this play too. So yes, for this nerd it’s preserved, but more importantly it’s been captured and sent out there for other people to hear Kushner’s words sing.


Angels in America: NT Live

I really enjoyed the NT Live screening of Angels in America. I particularly liked the way they did the CGI Apes, and the jungle was really realistic and I’m not one for CGI usually.

Confused? So was I.

I will get to a collection of thoughts on seeing Angels in the cinema. But first…

In Act 1 the picture cut out. Not that unusual (annoyingly) in these feeds, but it’s live, these things happen. For about 5 minutes it was a radio play (Missing a bit of key dialogue when that cut out too) . These things happen. Again in Act 2, just at the Hot Dogs scene (one of my favourites again). Suddenly the title plate for Planet of the Apes appeared. No, surely they can’t….oh yes, yes they can. Planet of the Apes, played on screen while Joe and Louis continued to talk about Politics, and Miss Ron Reagan Jnr (the pardon the expression heterosexual). So forgive me if from now on, the Reagan family is forever a bunch of Apes to me.

The cinema were in fairness apologetic, and gave vouchers to audience members to make up for it. But still this does highlight some of the issues with NT Live, that things go wrong and ultimately you’re not in the room. I know this is an issue for some people. And it’s obviously an issue for those of us who have Apes playing instead of Angels. And yes, as an utter Angels snob I have issues with some of the camera angle choices, and yes, it did lose some of the intensity and intimacy of being in the room. But you as much as I came into this post expecting to write about that in some detail. I can’t. Why? because last night (and beyond) Angels in America was beamed around the world to 100s of 1000s of people. And it was preserved in gloriously filmed quality forevermore.

As a) someone who doesn’t live in London b) someone who is perpetual broke c) a researcher/theatre historian I cannot find fault with this. Firstly the chance for those who do live close enough but couldn’t get tickets, those who could never travel to London for it, and those on the other side of the world. Whatever their reason for wanting to see this play, love of the writer, the subject, the cast, they get to see it. As a researcher/historian who only previously had static camera footage from the back of the auditorium, from the early 90s, this is a godsend. That the NT is preserving in a different way aspects of their history is wonderful and fascinating.

And ultimately it’s the lucky ones who were able to be in the room who complain, say that it’s not the same. The harsh truth is: this isn’t for you, it’s for everyone else. I adore NT Live and the access it gives, also in terms of those people not comfortable in a cinema. So if it’s not for you, that’s fine. But it is for a lot of other people.

NT Live related waffle aside. The experience of seeing it again was really emotional, intense experience. On one hand, related to it being the broadcast, I was really nervous that it would go right that it would be preserved for posterity in it’s best shape. And conscious that this is also a really high profile show, and that the cast get it right. And well, I’m just over invested in that sense. On a personal level as well knowing people I know were watching it (mostly due to my years of relentless harassment) made me worry they’d not like it. And on the other side of the Atlantic my ‘brain twin’ my friend who is the mirror image of me in nerdy pursuits, and my friend because of Angels, was watching this beloved production of ‘mine’ and for the first time ever we’d be watching the same production. That’s just a lot of emotional investment for a rainy Thursday evening in July.

Luckily, I think none of us were disappointed. I’ve never said this production was perfect, and if anything multiple viewings are allowing me the luxury of figuring out what the fixes I’d make, the imperfections are. But to have a production, and a chance to do that at all is still magical.

For me things in the production had come on leaps and bounds since I saw it in previews (the very first two show day in fact). As you’d expect everyone has grown into their characters more, and everything feels much more settled, but also much more developed. In particular Russell Tovey seems to be having more fun with Joe, but also found more of his depths. He’s a very different Joe to others, but as an adorable puppy dog version he works incredibly well. Meanwhile Denise Gough is doing what Denise Gough does and soaring with Harper. She’s so sharp, and knowing while in the midst of her madness that it’s scary, and brilliant. I still adore what Andrew Garfield does, I admire his portrayal of Prior, and it’s difficult to doubt his emotional commitment to the part, in close up particularly the nuances of his performance were more apparent and I am fascinated by his take. Meanwhile my sheer devotion and worship of Mr James McArdle doesn’t waver. Yes Louis is my favourite character but that means I’m even harder to win over with him, but I am won. He also has really grown and settled into Louis- his ‘Democracy in America’ speech is a tour de force, and he is more emotional, but also more playful when it’s called for- a real joy to watch. Seeing them all in close up, but also seeing the interactions across the play again lets it really sink in just how good they all are.

And Nathan Lane. Ah Nathan. To quote a friend who shares similar opinions of him that I do ‘Well who knew he had it in him?’. No he’d never have been my choice for Roy, but then neither would Al Pacinio and he’s still brilliant. As is Lane. In close up and on film I’d feared he’d be just too much but actually he walks that line well.

The set as well, given the luxury to see it all from the camera angles rather than craning my neck in row C, my God that works. The boxes that form a perfect New York Living metaphor, and the swirling platforms, spinning clockwise as part of the perpetual motion of the set. It’s been a long time since I saw a set so seamlessly tell the story along with the dialogue. And the filmed version was a gift for that. When the set pulls back and Harper’s Antarctica appeared I shed happy tears because it was all so perfect, and it was being shared by so many people at that moment. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Talking of tears, I had a bet with myself as to when I’d cry first. I choked up at ‘KS baby’ and again at ‘Rainy afternoon in March’ (I’m a sucker for Louis, I have emotional problems what can I tell you). Instead of soft lady-like tears what I had in general was what I can only describe as a lump of emotion in my chest. I let out a kind of gasp-sob when Prior screamed ‘I wish I were dead’. And let’s just say nobody better play ‘Moon River’ near me any time soon. But ultimately when I got really emotional was at the curtain call. Going back to my earlier point, just the emotion that this was a thing that had now been shared that ‘my’ play, the one I’d been banging on and on to anyone who would listen to read, to see, had been shared around the world. And that the cast (and crew) had done an amazing job in making it happen. I was a proud nerd right then.

And this is only Part 1. It’s a different experience seeing them a week apart, but actually I was so drained last night that I was glad of the breather. Is it the same as being in the room? no, but the ‘magic of the theatre’ really did manage to translate across the screen. Even with a short Monkey interlude.

See you on the other side for part 2. The Great Work Begins.

And if anyone can find me the Octopus mug that Roy has in his first scene, I’ll love you forever.


Theatre Fandom Conference- University of Bristol

In a departure from reviews I’m writing about an academic symposium  this week. I’m doing this for 2 reasons.

Firstly it’s a part of my life being a (sort of) academic as well as a blogger, writer and all the other theatre related things. Secondly it’s a conference about theatre fans, and I’m passionate about all academic work being shared with everybody. Finally just because it was held in a University doesn’t mean it should just be ‘academics’ in there and as (hopefully) this is just the first event of it’s kind, other theatre professionals should get involved.

Organised by Kirsty Sedgeman (@KirstySedgeman ) this symposium was an informal affair for people to get together and talk about theatre and fandom (or ‘theatre fans’ if you prefer I personally have always hated the term fandom). Why? well why do academics do anything? More nobly as a means of understanding the world around us and recording information. Honestly? a sense of curiosity and nosiness. Most of us in that room were theatre ‘people’ most of us would consider ourselves ‘theatre fans’. The discipline of ‘Fan Studies’ has been around for about 20 years but is heavily situated in film/TV and Media Studies and although people (myself included) have tried to indicate that fans exist in the theatre world- and indeed respond to work in a very different way sometimes to their film and TV counterparts, it seemed nobody was that interested.

However the gathering of around 25 people yesterday indicated that interest in what fans of theatre do to express their love of the work is growing. We had people who research historical instances of fans in theatre. This included Agata Luksza from Poland sharing historical experience of 19th Century fans, as well as Kate Holmes sharing historical accounts of circus audiences in the 1920s and 30s along with Katherine Kavannagh also representing circus and the history of fan followers of the genre in the UK and USA.

There were plenty of contemporary reflections as well, from Helen Freshwater considering audiences who appear to be fans of crying returning to ‘War Horse’ over and over. To Laura MacDonald considering fans in Europe and Asia, and Megan Vaughan observing the way fans of Harry Potter share infomation within their community. Among these more commerical and mainstream elements, the Live Art community was also represented with Owen Parry’s The Fan Riot Porject and Beth Emily Richards sharing her experiences of practice as research.

From this all-too-brief summary it’s clear there’s a wide spectrum of research interest not just in theatre performance itself but in how audineces are responding to theatre. This is great news for both theatres/artists and audineces. Firstly for those creating work, it’s imporant particularly in the times we live in, to know how people resond to your work. And to have people looking at that on both the bigger picture sense and the focused mannerin which academics tend to do, is going to inform arts organisations in the future.

For the audiences themselves, perhaps for people reading this blog, I think this research is really important. It’s saying that someone is interested in you. In what you have to say. Particularly for those fans who input labour into perhaps blogging, sharing on message boards, creating fanworks or simply engaging with fellow fans. It often feels like an invisible practise. Or at least dwarfed by the bigger more shiny fans of trendy things live Marvel films. However everyone in that room (ok everyone but one, but there’s always one) was a fan of fans. Mostly they were a fan themselves.

I wrote this blog because I don’t like academics that keep what they do secret. I don’t like the idea of observing people like you’re David Attenborough. I like to plant my flag, announce my repsence and say ‘tell me what you know, because you probably know more than me’. So here’s my flag; academics are interested in theatre fans, and I think it could lead to some really great conversations in the coming years when my colleagues and I are out there. We love theatre like you d (we also hate theatre like you do) and we’re sitting in rooms talking about it because we love it too.

So what next? well we formed an informal group (yes that’s all a bit Monty Python) in order to keep in touch, help each other out and maybe do some writing about it. Mainly we agreed we want to wake Theatre Studies as a genre up and get them paying attention to audiences. But also give Fan Studies a nudge and a reminder that people are fans of theatre too.

Academia gets a bad reputation. Hell I give it a bad reputation (often deserved) but sometimes, some people come along with a really nice idea to take things out of the dark ages and into something genuinely exciting. And for once it was nice to be a part of that.

And what of my work? look out for a longer account on my sister (academic) blog:
But I spoke about Rent fans, and how they were a trailblazing ‘fandom’ for the newer models of fandom we see in theatre today (Subtitle: sorry Hamilton you didn’t invent it) but also about the original Rentheads who grew up and grew with ‘their’ show and how they personally continue to be fans despite having ‘outgrown’ that phase in their lives.

The Theatre Fandom symposium took place at the University of Brisol on 7th July 2017 and was supported by the British Academy.