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.

Published by Emily Garside

Academic, journalist and playwright. My PhD was on theatrical responses to the AIDS epidemic, and I continue to write on Queer theatrical history. Professional nerd of all things theatre.

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