NT Live: Millennium Approaches


(First written 21st July 2017) 

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.

NT Live: Perestrokia


(First written 28th July 2017)
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.

Flying the Angel of History

Originally written for another website, who didn’t really want it. (6th July 2017)

This piece was originally written for Wales Arts Reivew, which can be found here. This is the longer version of that piece. 
“History is about the crack wide open” warns the Angels to Prior Walter. And history, of Reagan, 80s America and AIDS is certainly on show for all to see in the revival of Angels in America. But why does a play about 1980s America, specifically the title might suggest Gay America resonate still? Is it now a play that is dated?  Is it a historical piece? Set in 1985 and Addressing issues- from AIDS to Cold War Politics that have now receded into the past or given way to new concerns?  When viewed today parts of it seem terrifyingly current. Economic downturns? Extreme right wing political views taking hold? Fear of Russia? Vague but ever present threat of nuclear war? Impending environmental disaster? Granted, when the play was announced a year ago nobody could know we’d have an American President and British Prime Minister who genuinely longed to return to the days of Reagan and Thatcher, or that the threat of war with Russia or nuclear fear like the Cold War would enter our day to day lives again.

The announcement that Angels would be returning to the National Theatre in 2017 is more of a ‘homecoming’ than the subtitle ‘A Gay Fantasia on National Themes’ might suggest. The play in fact received its world premiere at premiered at the National Theatre in 1994, where by a quirk of logistical fate it opened ahead of its Broadway counterpart. It was a hit in the smaller Cottesloe space, and earned theatrical accolades on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the most important and memorable pieces of new work the National has staged, it was no surprise it was included in their 50th Anniversary celebrations, or that Rufus Norris has chosen to revisit the play in his second year in charge of the theatre. This time including a starry cast including Andrew Garfield, Nathan Lane and Russell Tovey along with Olivier award winner, and all-round star of British theatre, Denise Gough. Combined with direction from Marianne Elliot, who has delivered some of the biggest hits for the National Theatre in recent years, this is not so much a homecoming then a triumphant return that looked to defy the previous production in scope and scale. More than this however, it is a sign of the significance of the play itself, that the NT has returned to the production on such a scale. Including it in the celebration of 50 years was an indication of its importance to theatrical history.



The epic two-part play, subtitled A Gay Fantasia on National Themes is described by Kushner as about ‘AIDS, America and Mormons’. This sprawling 7-hour epic takes on not just AIDS, Religion and Gay identity, but the sprawling mass of American politics and history. The play was supported by the National Endowment for the Arts which compelled him to include something about America in his play, and it is in some respects Kushner’s ‘state of the Nation address’. Meanwhile the play still finds time for an analysis of history and philosophy, coupled with often surreal and always fantastical flights into alternative realities. Crafted in the style of ‘Brechtian Epic’ theatre, the plays do not shy away from big set pieces and big ideas that still feel pertinent today. From Louis setting out his stall on the state of America, race and politics- and being challenged to think outside his leftist liberal bubble- today sounding like they might have been lifted from a well-meaning but misguide blog post and resulting comments section. Meanwhile Kushner uses the embodiment of real-life figures Roy Cohn and Ethel Rosenberg, to look back on American history as well as the limits of forgiveness and tolerance in us as people. All while also having the audacity to appear to answer the question of what is Heaven? And indeed, who is God? It is grand, far reaching and bold. And it more than stands up as a play as director Marianne Elliot gives it not just ‘more life’ as Prior asks but new life, and does what every good revival should- challenge the very material itself. 



Divided into Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, the play follows Prior Walter, gay man, and newly diagnosed with AIDS, and his boyfriend Louis. Parallel to them, Joe Pitt and his wife Harper struggle with their own relationship issues and Harper’s Valium addiction. Meanwhile Joe, a Clerk of the Chief Justice, is being courted by Roy Cohn, based on the real-life lawyer who worked for McCarthy and Trump, and died of AIDS denying his sexuality to the end. Roy and Joe’s father/son relationship, with undertones of both the sexual and sinister confuses the already conflicted Joe further, as does his encounters with Louis. As part 1 catapults towards conclusion in this fast-paced production, Louis has left Prior and convinces Joe to give in to his impulses and come home with him, while Harper wanders lost in the park and in her delusions. Prior, left alone has had visions, which come to a head in as he says, Spielbergian style with an Angelic visitation.

Kushner’s was one of a wide variety of theatrical works to tackle AIDS, but also the highest profile. His depiction of AIDS in the earliest years of the epidemic is brutal in both its depiction of characters succumbing to illness, but also in the treatment of the wider impact on the lives of those affected by AIDS in the broader sense. He also addresses issues of what it meant to be a gay man in the 1980s across the spectrum; from Louis and Prior’s unapologetic openness to his closeted characters, Joe and Roy. Charm and humour come to Lane easily, and his early scenes and the bullish Cohn at the top of his game are delivered with the kind of impeccable comic timing you’d expect. However, beneath the surface there’s a darkness that is terrifying even in these moments, it’s a balance that Lane wears well in Millennium and by the time he is seen suffering and dying in Perestroika his darkness as a character is clear. Which balances well when, as the audience sees him succumb to the effects of AIDS we ask how we divide our sympathy differently for this truly unsympathetic character. Lane confronted with the challenge of playing the devil of the piece but also in winning an audience over as ultimately Roy’s character becomes a lesson in forgiveness- as Belize says, ‘A Queen can forgive her vanquished foe’ Elsewhere, with Joe Kushner gives us the young man finally coming to terms with his sexuality, but ultimately the sympathies here lean towards his wife Harper. Denise Gough never plays Harper as weak, or a victim, and sometimes sympathies shift to Joe a puppy-like Russell Tovey, battling his own demons of sexuality while trying to still be a good man and ultimately good husband.



Millennium is a naturalistic affair, and is staged as such-often with jarring realism as Roy and Prior succumb to their illness. The stage consists of three main revolves, which at the start separate out into Louis and Prior’s areas, Joe and Harper’s with some no man’s land between. As the play progresses, the set is used cleverly to literally ‘revolve’ them into each other’s worlds, until by the split scene towards the end of Act 3, they have completely bled into each other, and their spaces. A neat parallel to the staging of this scene also returns at the end of Part 2. The simplistic backdrops offer a variety of rooms that adapt to the range of settings across the play- from apartments to park benches, diners and City Hall. A clue to the scale of Part 2 however is a moment when an entire apartment (Roy’s) emerges from the floor, and the metaphor of Roy emerging- and returning- bellow may not be intentional but is apt.

And while the production has gained attention for its star filled cast it truly is an ensemble piece. Susan Brown and Amanda Lawrence do a lot of the less glamourous but important work, sharing a variety of characters between them – not least in the case of Lawrence the Angel of the title which is a physical challenge as much as a performance one. Meanwhile, Brown notably as Hannah Pitt and Ethel Rosenberg becomes the focus of any scene she is in. Elsewhere Nathan Stewart- Jarret also steals many a laugh and indeed a scene from Nathan Lane with his own camp wit and sharp delivery. Stewart-Jarret shouldn’t be underestimated however as just the comic turn in ex-drag Queen and nurse Belize, as the friend of someone dying of AIDS, and the nurse to a foe he’d rather not treat, there’s a quiet depth to the performance beneath one liners and loud costumes.



The real heart of the piece, and the real challenge to the audience lies Prior, the insight into Kushner’s philosophical reflections yes, but also the heart of the paly as the man we watch succumbing to AIDS. The effect of this hinges largely on the performances of Andrew Garfield as Prior and James McArdle as Louis. Garfield quickly proves he is a natural Prior, balancing heart-breaking performance with a razor-sharp wit. McArdle’s understated but powerful performance as Louis is what really lifts this element of the narrative and the heart of the play however.  as his struggling partner, Louis-  in this scene beyond is increasingly he is a tough character to love, but making the audience understand him adds strength to the conflicted narrative about love and loyalty that Kushner creates. Much of the story hinges on Prior being abandoned by Louis because of his having AIDS, a brave bold choice in Kushner’s writing at any time, but particularly in 1995 when the gay community was still being decimated by AIDS. There is naturally a drive to depict those in the community as wholly good a caring and point the finger only at government, at homophobia, and pharmaceuticals. However in reality many people struggled with their new-found roles as carers, and whether AIDS or any other illness it’s an honest and difficult question to ask, ‘could I cope?’ and a brave narrative choice to have the answer be ‘no’ because the audience still has sympathy for Louis as the one who walks away, because ultimately, we understand him. And because, despite the subtitle A Gay Fantasia on National Themes what Kushner’s play is, and why it stands up 25 years on is that it’s a play about people in all their complexities.


Angels is both one play in two parts and two separate plays, and though both are written in the Brechtian Epic style it is Perestroika in which Elliot truly runs with this style. Millennium’s at times overly-staged format becomes instead a set up for the stripping back, and (almost literal) pulling the rug away from the audience in Part 2 until they are left with a virtually bare stage. This is by no means a simplistic staging and things veer from a piling up of debris on stage, to spectacular intricate moving set pieces, to of course the returning Angel of the title.

The arrival of the Angel, steers Millennium into Part 2, Perestroika a sign of a shift in the world of the play, and the theatricality used to get there. And The daring approach Elliot has taken to staging the Angel, possibly the most difficult question in staging this piece, shows the confidence of a director at the top of her game- the audience thinks they know that Angel. The image of her crashing through the ceiling is probably one of the most famous from the original, and every production since. ‘Very Steven Spielberg’ Prior says just before she arrives, except if it happens as we’d expect, it isn’t. And Elliot knows that. What she delivers instead was jaw-droppingly clever, not just for that one ‘wow’ moment but in how we see the Angel, and indeed who the Angel is for the rest of the play. It’s both clever and terrifying and a perfect insight into Prior’s psyche as he encounters this spectral beast. It’s also in theatrical terms exactly what a big revival like this should do- reinvent, reimagine and give audiences something new. Naturally many an audience at the National will hate it, but it’s entirely possible that was the point.


Perestroika is a theatrical piece, reliant on a director teasing out all the elements that lift it out of what can simply end up a wordy confusing mess without the right steer. Which Elliot manages admirably, particularly when viewed alongside Millennium. Although theatricality drives Perestroika it is not without its moments of honest emotional realism, and that is the gift that is this piece a challenging but rewarding veering between the two pulling the audience along with it.  It’s a confidence of a director to take things this far, but also an acknowledgement that audiences are intelligent, and will engage if you deliver. There is also a confidence present in knowing when to return to the words of the playwright, and trust in the power of the actors. And it is with this the play ends. Stripped back staging as part of the wider metaphor yes, but also offer no distraction from the writing. As set and Angels come and go, and as things within the narrative seem to spiral more and more out of control and into the realm of the supernatural, the stage becomes barer. Subtly the workings of the production are more on show, until, mirroring Kushner’s stage directions for the Angel herself, literal ‘wires show’. Last of all left in all this, is the grey metallic structure that has hung in semi-darkness throughout. And while everything else is stripped to bare stage in theatrical-meta moments, the grey structure remains; it becomes the structure of heaven, which of course has watched over the production, but not illuminated, not interfering, exactly as the Angels of the piece do.


In doing a final battle with the Angel, Prior is released after demanding ‘More Life’ What that ‘More Life’ might mean is ultimately in the hands of the audience, and 25 years after the original naturally some of that meaning, and what is carried out may have changed. It was never about the specifics of the politics for Kushner- he was writing back to the Reagan era as Clinton was elected president. The play looks back on American history, on human history to ask how we might progress. As the Angels fly once again to London’s South Bank, it’s also a fitting reflection on theatrical history, and this production, on the art of theatrical progress. This play was an important landmark in the National Theatre’s history- situating not only an American play, but an American gay play about AIDS on the national stage (in both senses) was a brave and important move. And reviving it remains just as significant. It is still a ‘gay’ story that needs to be heard amid continued homophobia, it’s a story about AIDS and commemorating those lost but remembering the epidemic goes on, albeit in a different way. But is also still a play that speaks very much to our current times, and to humanity.

More however than a place in theatrical history, this now historical piece has themes which resonate strongly in the contemporary setting. We have only to hear Louis say ‘You’re scared. So am I. Everyone is in the land of the free. God help us all.’ Or hear Joe’s almost blind defence of his voting choice ‘Ronald Reagan is a good man’ to feel we know these characters in our present time still.  And, any question of whether the politics apply only to an American audience are surely silenced when Nathan Stewart Jarret stops the show with the applause following his “There’s a nursing shortage, I’m in a Union, I’m real scared” proving that the play evolves to fit the current times also. Elsewhere, the sentiments on race in America feel shockingly current, and though holes in the ozone layer no longer threaten, the themes of environmental apocalypse still resonate. It may now be 17 years since the new Millennium, not 15 before as in the play, but the world of Kushner’ America, and indeed the world, is familiar.


In doing a final battle with the Angel, Prior is released after demanding ‘More Life’ What that ‘More Life’ might mean is ultimately in the hands of the audience, and 25 years after the original naturally some of that meaning, and what is carried out may have changed. It was never about the specifics of the politics for Kushner- he was writing back to the Reagan era as Clinton was elected president. Like Louis in the play Kushner is concerned with the bigger picture, the idea again as Prior concludes ‘We will be citizens’. Grand yes, fitting with the scale of the piece certainly, and finally effective.

Angels in America- National Theatre


(First written 6ht May 2017, about 29th April two-show day)

As Angels in America is a two part play, it seems only right to review it in a two part blog. The first part, detailing my emotional reaction to it, having been the ultimate in over invested (by writing an entire PhD on it) can be found here and indeed if that wasn’t enough, some thoughts on my PhD and the plays it’s on can also be found here . 

The play has flown home to the National, where it was staged 25 years ago (as the World Premiere in fact). And in a world where Reaganism now looks like a moderate American political approach, the world of 1985 America seems not so distant after all. Equally troublesome and relevant are the remarks on race that Belize (Nathan Stewart Jarret) makes throughout that could have been written yesterday. Known best as an AIDS play, we may have moved on in terms of treatment, but stigma and indeed infection rates continue, and even without the play is just as relevant as a memorial to that time, to the people we lost, as it is a warning for today.  Elsewhere the commentary on homophobia- internalised and elsewhere remains sadly relevant, and Kushner’s observations on mental health through Harper seem now actually ahead of their time. Finally though, although it is the ‘Gay Fantasia’ of the title, this is a play about people, and there’s a little something of all of us in Kushner’s characters.  



Leading the star-filled cast is Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter. Emotionally played to the core, from up close an often-painful watch as he goes through not just the physical trials but faces Prior’s emotional challenges (and a few angels). It’s emotional, granted often loud, anguished and at times outlandish (drag can be a drag after all) but it’s always honest to the character, and serves the play not the actor. Likewise, Nathan Lane, no stranger to stealing a scene for better or worse, pitches Roy almost perfectly. The humour that was a given is delivered dead on, but there is a danger that lurks beneath that is frankly terrifying. Meanwhile Denise Gough delivers the kind of sensitive but ultimately tour de force performance as Harper as you’d expect. Never weak but still showing all the vulnerabilities of Harper, she unravels only to build her up again, and it feels like a triumphant battle won to see the change in character across the play. It’s a part in the wrong hands that could slip into irritating, certainly into weak and unsympathetic, Gough handles Harper perfectly- pitching her pain, delusion and frustration but never allowing her to be a victim. 


Easy to overlook alongside Andrew Garfield is James McArdle who is also giving the performance of his career as Louis. A difficult role and one that without, the actor playing Prior will really struggle. McArdle and Garfield have perfect chemistry and from their first scene convey the familiarity and conflict of their relationship. That McArdle doesn’t look the ‘traditional’ Louis that is cast-and frankly a highly attractive one- also offers a different dynamic between he and Garfield/Prior and later Joe/Tovey.  Louis’ is a hard sell for an actor- he can, indeed is, fundamentally unlikable at times but he is also the most universal of the characters. There’s a little bit of Louis in all us-whether it’s the neurotic insecure side, the side that has a mouth that runs away from them or frequently a foot in it, and the side that doesn’t hold up under pressure. The darkest, most honest part of Louis is when he turns away from Prior when he gets sick, and as much as what he does is terrible, it’s also equally understandable. And that is the skill that McArdle makes that decision honest, real and awfully relatable.



Equally easy to overlook amid the starry cast and emotional story lines is Susan Brown. Whose primary roles are Hannah Pitt and Ethel Rosenberg. Brown here is giving the performance of her career (and that is saying something) with a varied and challenging set of roles. Hannah, the Mormon Mother who doesn’t understand her son’s actions, and struggles with his confessions, alone in the big city, overcomes this to care for Prior when he needs her. It would be easy to slip into a caricature of an older Mother, or religious fanatic, but what she delivers is honest, at times raw and always intelligently played. Likewise, her Ethel Rosenberg, taps into the woman behind the story (or the ghost in this case) and manages to steal scenes-and laughs- from Nathan Lane.

Millennium is cleverly staged but it becomes more apparent how cleverly when viewed with Perestroika. But there are three revolves on stage, with various abstract ‘rooms’ built in. At the start stage left is Prior and Louis’ area, stage right Harper and Joe’s and then as things progress these bleed- or revolve into each other. It’s a neat and clever bit of staging, if flashier than I’d instinctively choose- but there’s method in it. Added to that, out of nowhere Roy’s apartment springs up from the stage. 

Of course, the end of Millennium has always been about the Angel. It’s- until now always been a traditional affair in terms of the entrance of the Angel, but this being Marianne Elliot (of War Horse and Curious Incident fame for the uninitiated) the traditional means of Angel entrance and/or execution were never going to do. It would be unfair to spoil what does fulfil the ‘Very Steven Spielberg’ that Prior remarks as she approaches. But it’s different- and yes it involved puppetry, but it worked.

Opening with literally the remains of Millennium around, the tone and direction of Perestroika is clearly different. And although these plays make a whole, they are separate works, and the subtlety and ultimately also clarity with which Elliot manages to treat them as separate and a whole is executed with finesse. In short Perestroika gradually strips away at the set, the play and in a manner the actors. It is not without its big set pieces- and those who don’t know just how big the Lyttleton stage is are in for a visual treat.

As much as Millennium works, staging wise, on its own there are questions- it doesn’t quite seem to fit with Kushner’s desired ‘Pared down’ approach, nor is it spectacular enough to seem an utter departure. However, with Perestroika it works, because what Elliot does is gradually strip all that back until the final scene is a bare stage with the actors and the angel statue. It’s both exactly what the Brechtian Epic influences Kushner draws on are after, as well as Elliot’s own twist on it- and that’s some confidence as a director too with this massive thing. Perestroika is full of little genius nerdy touches that I loved but it’s also visually stunning despite that being ‘stripped back’ using the entire depth of the stage is a great move and gives a real chance to play with the images on stage. 



Despite all that going on, the theatricality it’s still the performances that carry it through, particularly in the last few scenes. Prior’s address in Heaven, when he implores the Angels ‘Bless me anyway, I want more life.’ Is some of the most beautiful writing in the play- and despite the metaphor and staging being strong in this scene it is quietly left to Garfield to deliver the real clout of the writing. It is the Epilogue however when the power is fully given over to Garfield, the set stripped bare as he deliver’s Prior’s final address. The end as ever was emotional, and as I said above, strips it all back. The writing of Angels remains as powerful as 25 years ago, and when it comes down to the scenes that really matter, Elliot is smart in staging it so that all the attention is back on the words. And it really packs a punch. 


Angels in America is a wordy, challenging piece of writing and Elliot gives an audience additional elements to think about with clever thoughtful staging that challenges the play as well as the audience. It’s a play filled with themes, questions and often not answers which while unwieldy and yes-over-written at times, there is a reason this play was canonised so quickly and is revisited now. It feels fresh, it feels current and ultimately it is also an incredibly moving piece of work. Elliot’s staging dazzles, but it is Kushner’s writing and a team of emotionally charged and equally intelligent performances that have the final word.


Angels in America runs until August 19th. NT Live showings nationwide and internationally from 29th July. 


Angels in America- National Theatre


(First written 6ht May 2017, about 29th April two-show day)

As Angels in America is a two part play, it seems only right to review it in a two part blog. The first part, detailing my emotional reaction to it, having been the ultimate in over invested (by writing an entire PhD on it) can be found here and indeed if that wasn’t enough, some thoughts on my PhD and the plays it’s on can also be found here . 

The play has flown home to the National, where it was staged 25 years ago (as the World Premiere in fact). And in a world where Reaganism now looks like a moderate American political approach, the world of 1985 America seems not so distant after all. Equally troublesome and relevant are the remarks on race that Belize (Nathan Stewart Jarret) makes throughout that could have been written yesterday. Known best as an AIDS play, we may have moved on in terms of treatment, but stigma and indeed infection rates continue, and even without the play is just as relevant as a memorial to that time, to the people we lost, as it is a warning for today.  Elsewhere the commentary on homophobia- internalised and elsewhere remains sadly relevant, and Kushner’s observations on mental health through Harper seem now actually ahead of their time. Finally though, although it is the ‘Gay Fantasia’ of the title, this is a play about people, and there’s a little something of all of us in Kushner’s characters.  



Leading the star-filled cast is Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter. Emotionally played to the core, from up close an often-painful watch as he goes through not just the physical trials but faces Prior’s emotional challenges (and a few angels). It’s emotional, granted often loud, anguished and at times outlandish (drag can be a drag after all) but it’s always honest to the character, and serves the play not the actor. Likewise, Nathan Lane, no stranger to stealing a scene for better or worse, pitches Roy almost perfectly. The humour that was a given is delivered dead on, but there is a danger that lurks beneath that is frankly terrifying. Meanwhile Denise Gough delivers the kind of sensitive but ultimately tour de force performance as Harper as you’d expect. Never weak but still showing all the vulnerabilities of Harper, she unravels only to build her up again, and it feels like a triumphant battle won to see the change in character across the play. It’s a part in the wrong hands that could slip into irritating, certainly into weak and unsympathetic, Gough handles Harper perfectly- pitching her pain, delusion and frustration but never allowing her to be a victim. 


Easy to overlook alongside Andrew Garfield is James McArdle who is also giving the performance of his career as Louis. A difficult role and one that without, the actor playing Prior will really struggle. McArdle and Garfield have perfect chemistry and from their first scene convey the familiarity and conflict of their relationship. That McArdle doesn’t look the ‘traditional’ Louis that is cast-and frankly a highly attractive one- also offers a different dynamic between he and Garfield/Prior and later Joe/Tovey.  Louis’ is a hard sell for an actor- he can, indeed is, fundamentally unlikable at times but he is also the most universal of the characters. There’s a little bit of Louis in all us-whether it’s the neurotic insecure side, the side that has a mouth that runs away from them or frequently a foot in it, and the side that doesn’t hold up under pressure. The darkest, most honest part of Louis is when he turns away from Prior when he gets sick, and as much as what he does is terrible, it’s also equally understandable. And that is the skill that McArdle makes that decision honest, real and awfully relatable.



Equally easy to overlook amid the starry cast and emotional story lines is Susan Brown. Whose primary roles are Hannah Pitt and Ethel Rosenberg. Brown here is giving the performance of her career (and that is saying something) with a varied and challenging set of roles. Hannah, the Mormon Mother who doesn’t understand her son’s actions, and struggles with his confessions, alone in the big city, overcomes this to care for Prior when he needs her. It would be easy to slip into a caricature of an older Mother, or religious fanatic, but what she delivers is honest, at times raw and always intelligently played. Likewise, her Ethel Rosenberg, taps into the woman behind the story (or the ghost in this case) and manages to steal scenes-and laughs- from Nathan Lane.

Millennium is cleverly staged but it becomes more apparent how cleverly when viewed with Perestroika. But there are three revolves on stage, with various abstract ‘rooms’ built in. At the start stage left is Prior and Louis’ area, stage right Harper and Joe’s and then as things progress these bleed- or revolve into each other. It’s a neat and clever bit of staging, if flashier than I’d instinctively choose- but there’s method in it. Added to that, out of nowhere Roy’s apartment springs up from the stage. 

Of course, the end of Millennium has always been about the Angel. It’s- until now always been a traditional affair in terms of the entrance of the Angel, but this being Marianne Elliot (of War Horse and Curious Incident fame for the uninitiated) the traditional means of Angel entrance and/or execution were never going to do. It would be unfair to spoil what does fulfil the ‘Very Steven Spielberg’ that Prior remarks as she approaches. But it’s different- and yes it involved puppetry, but it worked.

Opening with literally the remains of Millennium around, the tone and direction of Perestroika is clearly different. And although these plays make a whole, they are separate works, and the subtlety and ultimately also clarity with which Elliot manages to treat them as separate and a whole is executed with finesse. In short Perestroika gradually strips away at the set, the play and in a manner the actors. It is not without its big set pieces- and those who don’t know just how big the Lyttleton stage is are in for a visual treat.

As much as Millennium works, staging wise, on its own there are questions- it doesn’t quite seem to fit with Kushner’s desired ‘Pared down’ approach, nor is it spectacular enough to seem an utter departure. However, with Perestroika it works, because what Elliot does is gradually strip all that back until the final scene is a bare stage with the actors and the angel statue. It’s both exactly what the Brechtian Epic influences Kushner draws on are after, as well as Elliot’s own twist on it- and that’s some confidence as a director too with this massive thing. Perestroika is full of little genius nerdy touches that I loved but it’s also visually stunning despite that being ‘stripped back’ using the entire depth of the stage is a great move and gives a real chance to play with the images on stage. 



Despite all that going on, the theatricality it’s still the performances that carry it through, particularly in the last few scenes. Prior’s address in Heaven, when he implores the Angels ‘Bless me anyway, I want more life.’ Is some of the most beautiful writing in the play- and despite the metaphor and staging being strong in this scene it is quietly left to Garfield to deliver the real clout of the writing. It is the Epilogue however when the power is fully given over to Garfield, the set stripped bare as he deliver’s Prior’s final address. The end as ever was emotional, and as I said above, strips it all back. The writing of Angels remains as powerful as 25 years ago, and when it comes down to the scenes that really matter, Elliot is smart in staging it so that all the attention is back on the words. And it really packs a punch. 


Angels in America is a wordy, challenging piece of writing and Elliot gives an audience additional elements to think about with clever thoughtful staging that challenges the play as well as the audience. It’s a play filled with themes, questions and often not answers which while unwieldy and yes-over-written at times, there is a reason this play was canonised so quickly and is revisited now. It feels fresh, it feels current and ultimately it is also an incredibly moving piece of work. Elliot’s staging dazzles, but it is Kushner’s writing and a team of emotionally charged and equally intelligent performances that have the final word.


Angels in America runs until August 19th. NT Live showings nationwide and internationally from 29th July. 


Angels at the National (a reflection before the review)



(First written 1st May 2017 after the first two show day and my first time seeing the full show)

I had to do a Kushner and give this post a long subtitle.

When I called my PhD thesis “Angels at the National” (I write terrible titles I know) I never thought I’d be able to say it again. Of course, the Gods like to have a laugh at my expense so mere months after I bound the copy, Rufus Norris and Marianne Elliot got together and decided that I clearly hadn’t had enough to write about. 

But how does it feel to have the thing that has lived in your head for so long, back, brought to life in front of you? As much as I love the plays, I’m also conditioned to be hyper critical. I know every line (I amazed/freaked out Elliot herself with my ability to know exact quotations on demand). And of course, I have my own expectations about how it should be. How then would it feel to go back? 



At the end of Part 1 I found myself leaning on the railings by the Thames, trying to compose myself and my thoughts enough to move. At the end of Part 2, I’m sure I had forgotten how to breathe for a while. And still I can’t quite wrap my head around it all. 
The last half an hour before curtain felt almost physically painful (not unlike the Lyttleton’s seats after nearly 8 hours…) Having waited nearly ten years since the last time, and after a year of build up knowing that this was happening, the last 30 minutes were too much. There is an energy to the NT foyer I don’t think I’ve ever felt. 
There was a breathing of a familiar sigh of relief as the first two scenes unfolded- as Rabbi Isidor Chelmwitz reflects on Jewish journeys, and then as Nathan Lane took the reigns as Roy. That Roy scene fits easily with his comedy chops and the audience was eating out of his hand within seconds. The next scene would clinch it for me- Prior and Louis for the first time- so much hinges on this. But with the immortal line ‘Cousin Doris is a dyke’ a feel a sense of relief, it works. I always have to love Louis, which possibly says things about my own romantic leanings and shortcoming that are best not to go into, and I do, immediately and fully (I mean, that it’s James McArdle helps obviously). McArdle isn’t the ‘typical’ Louis, but as soon becomes, Elliot has littered this production with little ‘not quite typical’ details that add up to something else entirely. 


Almost too soon it’s the first interval, things feel like they’re already progressing at breakneck speed. Anyone afraid of the running time should surely see by now that the 7 hours in practice feel like far less when it’s going right.  Act 2 is where it starts to get serious. And the realism of the opening scene is like a slap across the face. And I’m reminded why I love this play so very much, that lurching from laughter to tears to sheer emotional gut-punch within moments. That’s the genius of Kushner’s writing and that’s what Elliot is doing so well here- pulling out those elements and taking them to their extremes while still managing to make it feel perfectly natural.

By interval two I’m aware I’m just smiling, elated, this feels like flying. So badly I wanted it to be good but I was scared to put too much expectation on it. What if it wasn’t, what if also, after all this time, this investment, I no longer love it? But it’s pure theatrical joy, a combination of exactly what I wanted and what I never expected- lines I thought I knew completely turned on their head and completely perfect. One moment I’m so glad was just as I expected, and hoped was the scene, set to Moon River, where Louis and Prior dance. Amid everything else, the information overload, the comedy, the politics, that moment is pure romance and tragedy and beautiful. Kushner’s stage direction for that scene reads ‘Louis appears. He looks gorgeous’. He does, and two bars in I was a goner. A building of comedy, realism and enough political points to keep a debate going for the entire break between parts had built part 1 into exactly what I’d expected, and hoped. 
And then, The Angel appeared. 
I know this play. I know virtually every production that’s been performed. I know that Angel. I know how she arrives. I know how she moves, what she looks like. I know her. 
I don’t know her. For the first time, ever in the theatre my mouth was open in surprise and shock. I’d give Part 1 a standing ovation for the last minute alone. On paper, it almost shouldn’t work. But it does. 
Stumbling out into the sunshine after Part 1 feels strange, and I end up stumbling towards the river and standing for a while. Looking across the river at the University building where I first started studying this play. On the ‘break’ even away from the building itself people were talking about Angels, catching snippets of excited conversation, from those who knew the plays and those who didn’t was fascinating, and it felt like being a part of something. To share this thing, I love so much with people again, in real time, experiencing it again. As I eavesdropped shamelessly I was also conscious of seeing people reading the programme- because I wrote an article for it, and it was both surreal and a little overwhelming to think I’d written something people around me were reading. That so many people across the run might read. And for me, as someone who spent so long with my head in this play, someone who used the programmes from the original as a window to that past production, to now have something I wrote in the programme for this one, was something special. 

Part 2. The sprawling messy Perestroika. (you’d think by now I could spell Perestroika without checking, you’d be wrong). To this point, I was happy, I was shaken. I was in love all over again. But, once I’d stepped back, had time to reflect, if it was just part 1 I was seeing. I’d have questions, I’d have critiques, there were things I wasn’t sure about. I was soon to learn a lesson: Elliot knew damn well what she was doing, and what she was doing we shouldn’t forget was not directing two plays but directing two parts. And there’s a difference. And in seeing Part 2 all became clear.
Angels is both one play in two parts and two separate plays, symbiotic but distinct. Perestroika is a theatrical piece, but not without its moments of honest emotional realism, and that is the gift that is this piece.  And the direction, more and more experimental, abstract is a gift to it. This was also the first time seeing the (considerable) revisions to the text as well and it was exciting to feel like discovering parts of the play for the first time again- being at once incredibly conscious of the differences but also feeling like they were just right. Alongside that is just what Elliot did to the play. That is a director that at once understands fully the essence of what Kushner was writing, but also not afraid to pull it through her own interpretation and pull it out the other side.
This isn’t a review, so the specifics are for another day. But it was subtle and not subtle at once. But to two people I mentioned a rain machine, and we all three got over excited. It’s a messy, magical truly epic ride of sheer theatricality. But we end on a virtually empty stage. And once again it’s hard to breathe.
It’s hard to explain, just how engrained these plays are in my consciousness. Kushner’s words run through my head, almost my veins on a virtually daily basis. And I don’t just mean my habit of shouting ‘Fuck you I’m a prophet!’ at people who piss me off. Over the last 10 years or so, those words have become a part of me. The real Bethesda Fountain, where they play ends, is Prior’s favourite place in the Universe. It’s mine too. I started going there because of this play, but it’s taken on meaning beyond that. It was a pilgrimage after I finished my PhD, it was a place myself and my long-distance friend and ‘brain twin’ had to go and sit together. I’ve gone back so many times, over so many years, and I recite Prior’s words to myself there. And it’s back, on stage where it all started in front of me again. And the words of the Epilogue, and indeed Prior’s invocation to the Angels, these are words I’ve absorbed, words I’ve taken on separate from the play. I knew hearing them again would be emotional, but it also felt like coming home.


The play ends on a quiet note, with that simple address to the audience ‘The Great Work Begins’. The lights go down and before they have chance to come up again the audience erupts. On their feet before the lights come up, and in London, like Prior we are ‘slow to rise’ particularly play audiences. I’ve never seen or heard anything quite like it. And for me that was something too, a moment of ‘It’s not just me, it’s really not just me, that was magical’.
It’s been more than 24 hours now, and I’m still not entirely sure how to process it all. What I do know is that, once again Angels, Kushner’s work came back to me when I needed it. This play changes people, and coming home to my ‘Favourite place in the Universe, the parts of it I have seen’ has changed me, even after all this time.
So, once again The Great Work Begins.  

  

Angels at the National (a reflection before the review)



(First written 1st May 2017 after the first two show day and my first time seeing the full show)

I had to do a Kushner and give this post a long subtitle.

When I called my PhD thesis “Angels at the National” (I write terrible titles I know) I never thought I’d be able to say it again. Of course, the Gods like to have a laugh at my expense so mere months after I bound the copy, Rufus Norris and Marianne Elliot got together and decided that I clearly hadn’t had enough to write about. 

But how does it feel to have the thing that has lived in your head for so long, back, brought to life in front of you? As much as I love the plays, I’m also conditioned to be hyper critical. I know every line (I amazed/freaked out Elliot herself with my ability to know exact quotations on demand). And of course, I have my own expectations about how it should be. How then would it feel to go back? 



At the end of Part 1 I found myself leaning on the railings by the Thames, trying to compose myself and my thoughts enough to move. At the end of Part 2, I’m sure I had forgotten how to breathe for a while. And still I can’t quite wrap my head around it all. 
The last half an hour before curtain felt almost physically painful (not unlike the Lyttleton’s seats after nearly 8 hours…) Having waited nearly ten years since the last time, and after a year of build up knowing that this was happening, the last 30 minutes were too much. There is an energy to the NT foyer I don’t think I’ve ever felt. 
There was a breathing of a familiar sigh of relief as the first two scenes unfolded- as Rabbi Isidor Chelmwitz reflects on Jewish journeys, and then as Nathan Lane took the reigns as Roy. That Roy scene fits easily with his comedy chops and the audience was eating out of his hand within seconds. The next scene would clinch it for me- Prior and Louis for the first time- so much hinges on this. But with the immortal line ‘Cousin Doris is a dyke’ a feel a sense of relief, it works. I always have to love Louis, which possibly says things about my own romantic leanings and shortcoming that are best not to go into, and I do, immediately and fully (I mean, that it’s James McArdle helps obviously). McArdle isn’t the ‘typical’ Louis, but as soon becomes, Elliot has littered this production with little ‘not quite typical’ details that add up to something else entirely. 


Almost too soon it’s the first interval, things feel like they’re already progressing at breakneck speed. Anyone afraid of the running time should surely see by now that the 7 hours in practice feel like far less when it’s going right.  Act 2 is where it starts to get serious. And the realism of the opening scene is like a slap across the face. And I’m reminded why I love this play so very much, that lurching from laughter to tears to sheer emotional gut-punch within moments. That’s the genius of Kushner’s writing and that’s what Elliot is doing so well here- pulling out those elements and taking them to their extremes while still managing to make it feel perfectly natural.

By interval two I’m aware I’m just smiling, elated, this feels like flying. So badly I wanted it to be good but I was scared to put too much expectation on it. What if it wasn’t, what if also, after all this time, this investment, I no longer love it? But it’s pure theatrical joy, a combination of exactly what I wanted and what I never expected- lines I thought I knew completely turned on their head and completely perfect. One moment I’m so glad was just as I expected, and hoped was the scene, set to Moon River, where Louis and Prior dance. Amid everything else, the information overload, the comedy, the politics, that moment is pure romance and tragedy and beautiful. Kushner’s stage direction for that scene reads ‘Louis appears. He looks gorgeous’. He does, and two bars in I was a goner. A building of comedy, realism and enough political points to keep a debate going for the entire break between parts had built part 1 into exactly what I’d expected, and hoped. 
And then, The Angel appeared. 
I know this play. I know virtually every production that’s been performed. I know that Angel. I know how she arrives. I know how she moves, what she looks like. I know her. 
I don’t know her. For the first time, ever in the theatre my mouth was open in surprise and shock. I’d give Part 1 a standing ovation for the last minute alone. On paper, it almost shouldn’t work. But it does. 
Stumbling out into the sunshine after Part 1 feels strange, and I end up stumbling towards the river and standing for a while. Looking across the river at the University building where I first started studying this play. On the ‘break’ even away from the building itself people were talking about Angels, catching snippets of excited conversation, from those who knew the plays and those who didn’t was fascinating, and it felt like being a part of something. To share this thing, I love so much with people again, in real time, experiencing it again. As I eavesdropped shamelessly I was also conscious of seeing people reading the programme- because I wrote an article for it, and it was both surreal and a little overwhelming to think I’d written something people around me were reading. That so many people across the run might read. And for me, as someone who spent so long with my head in this play, someone who used the programmes from the original as a window to that past production, to now have something I wrote in the programme for this one, was something special. 

Part 2. The sprawling messy Perestroika. (you’d think by now I could spell Perestroika without checking, you’d be wrong). To this point, I was happy, I was shaken. I was in love all over again. But, once I’d stepped back, had time to reflect, if it was just part 1 I was seeing. I’d have questions, I’d have critiques, there were things I wasn’t sure about. I was soon to learn a lesson: Elliot knew damn well what she was doing, and what she was doing we shouldn’t forget was not directing two plays but directing two parts. And there’s a difference. And in seeing Part 2 all became clear.
Angels is both one play in two parts and two separate plays, symbiotic but distinct. Perestroika is a theatrical piece, but not without its moments of honest emotional realism, and that is the gift that is this piece.  And the direction, more and more experimental, abstract is a gift to it. This was also the first time seeing the (considerable) revisions to the text as well and it was exciting to feel like discovering parts of the play for the first time again- being at once incredibly conscious of the differences but also feeling like they were just right. Alongside that is just what Elliot did to the play. That is a director that at once understands fully the essence of what Kushner was writing, but also not afraid to pull it through her own interpretation and pull it out the other side.
This isn’t a review, so the specifics are for another day. But it was subtle and not subtle at once. But to two people I mentioned a rain machine, and we all three got over excited. It’s a messy, magical truly epic ride of sheer theatricality. But we end on a virtually empty stage. And once again it’s hard to breathe.
It’s hard to explain, just how engrained these plays are in my consciousness. Kushner’s words run through my head, almost my veins on a virtually daily basis. And I don’t just mean my habit of shouting ‘Fuck you I’m a prophet!’ at people who piss me off. Over the last 10 years or so, those words have become a part of me. The real Bethesda Fountain, where they play ends, is Prior’s favourite place in the Universe. It’s mine too. I started going there because of this play, but it’s taken on meaning beyond that. It was a pilgrimage after I finished my PhD, it was a place myself and my long-distance friend and ‘brain twin’ had to go and sit together. I’ve gone back so many times, over so many years, and I recite Prior’s words to myself there. And it’s back, on stage where it all started in front of me again. And the words of the Epilogue, and indeed Prior’s invocation to the Angels, these are words I’ve absorbed, words I’ve taken on separate from the play. I knew hearing them again would be emotional, but it also felt like coming home.


The play ends on a quiet note, with that simple address to the audience ‘The Great Work Begins’. The lights go down and before they have chance to come up again the audience erupts. On their feet before the lights come up, and in London, like Prior we are ‘slow to rise’ particularly play audiences. I’ve never seen or heard anything quite like it. And for me that was something too, a moment of ‘It’s not just me, it’s really not just me, that was magical’.
It’s been more than 24 hours now, and I’m still not entirely sure how to process it all. What I do know is that, once again Angels, Kushner’s work came back to me when I needed it. This play changes people, and coming home to my ‘Favourite place in the Universe, the parts of it I have seen’ has changed me, even after all this time.
So, once again The Great Work Begins.