‘You’ve got to have a theory’- Epilogue Thoughts

The Epilogue is perhaps the richest of all scenes in the entire two plays.
It divides people with some believing the whole thing would be better left at the point of the final ‘real time’ scenes. (So Prior and Louis’ final exchange and Harper’s monologue).  And while there’s a case for that- nothing is left entirely resolved and open to interpretation- the Epilogue only gives us clues that the respective directors and actors can play with. There’s also an important theatrical point to be made with the style of the Epilogue as well- and all this combines to really change the sense of the ending.
It’s a short (by Kushner standards) scene but also dialogue heavy. It is five years later- January 1990, and Prior, Louis, Belize and Hannah visit the Bethesda fountain. In the film version it is Prior’s Birthday (he reminds us Thomas Jefferson died on his Birthday, Belize reminds him he isn’t Thomas Jefferson) In the play version, there’s no scripted reason for them to assemble, other than it’s something they now do. Which is something.
The 2007 version (Headlong, Daniel Kramer) cut most of the Epilogue, having Prior step out of his bed and address the audience. The politics edited out seen as dated and unnecessary perhaps. Here the politics- Louis and Belize bickering over Perestroika and Yugoslavia were deemed ‘dated’ and perhaps distracting, so the Epilogue focused only on Prior’s invocation to the audience. A valid approach but one that loses the wider sense of ‘what happened next’ that feels as valuable as the theatrical trope of fourth wall breaking and shift to the audience. And the way the Epilogue is played can also influence the final reading of the characters, and indeed the feeling you take away from the play. I don’t remember the same feeling of sheer hopefulness in 2007 as I do in 2017.
This version of the Epilogue in Elliott’s 2017 version is an example of how a production, and even a scene can change a whole take on a play. Personally, I’ve always had a rather macabre outlook. Asked about Rent (my other PhD text) and challenged on the ‘fairy-tale’ ending of it, I often reply ‘but Mimi’s a junkie with AIDS how long is she really going to last in the mid-80s.’ Harsh but, fair perhaps. I’ve always had a similarly grim outlook for Prior. Unlike my slightly dismissive attitude of Mimi (she gets on my nerves…oops) I do take a rather Motherly attitude towards Prior (call me Mother Pitt). But I always worried Kushner is giving us the glint of hope before reality snaps in. However, there is something so utterly hopeful in this production that is in a way utterly ineffable.  A great deal of which stems from the Epilogue- from the way the characters look, to their body language and interaction with each other and the staging of it in terms of what the audience is supposed to take away.
Firstly, costumes. I could write a book on these. Hannah and Prior are the only ones with actual descriptions of their appearance. Prior is described as ‘is heavily bundled, and he has thick glasses on and supports himself with a cane’ meanwhile Hannah Is noticeably different- she looks like a New Yorker and is reading The New York Times’ These two, have in the past five years, undergone the most radical changes, and it’s noted in their appearance. Hannah is dressed in a smart trench coat, black dress and smart black heels no longer the dowdier ‘Salt Lake City’ stylings of before, but sharp lines of an 80s New Yorker. Her overall demeanour shifts with the outfit- holding herself taller, asserting herself in the conversation with Belize and Louis.

Using some curtain call pictures as ones of the actual costumes are hard to find…
Belize meanwhile is as fabulous as ever. His signature bright colours remain, though perhaps a little toned down, a littler trendier rather than deliberately outlandish. In a similar checked coat to his earlier one- this one yellow rather than pink- and stonewash, 90s style jeans, along with his signature scarf- a plainer yellow and brown to match the coat. Belize is chic, fashionable and still fabulous. But perhaps a bit more grown up, a little less trying to scream a statement with his clothes, but still marking his personality. It’s a subtle shift in Belize, indicating he hasn’t changed quite as much. An indicator that Belize is our most ‘together’ of characters- he’s probably changed as we all do over 5 years but not substantially as Belize was already secure in himself, mature and sure of himself. His unchanged, only slightly updated, hip 90s wardrobe show Belize continues to simply be fabulous Belize.

Louis. Oh Louis. It’s subtle but he changes as much as Prior and Hannah. He has shoes on for a start. It might seem a minor detail, but five years later Louis is wearing smart dress shoes. Every other scene from work to his Grandmother’s funeral he’s worn the same battered trainers. He’s also wearing a smart coat, what’s more one that fits. As do his trousers and shirt. They’re also subtly colour coordinated- shades of dark blue. The last time we saw Louis he was wearing a grey T-shirt that didn’t quite fit properly and possibly also hadn’t been washed in several days. This is also the Louis who wore trainers to his Grandmother’s funeral. Now Louis I don’t want to sound like your Mother but is this a sign you finally learned to dress yourself or something more? Something more. Louis five years ago is a man very much at sea, even before Prior drops his bombshell Louis (and indeed Prior) isn’t a man with his life together. He’s an office temp, seems directionless, and we see that he’s still emotionally young struggles with life. His clothes reflect that- from the shabby overcoat that is too big, to scruffy trousers, untucked scruffy shirts and yes, those trainers. Now, from the things we have seen him go through, and whatever happens in the intervening five years, he looks like someone who is more together. From his more expensive looking clothes (his earlier outfits give mind to someone who either routinely buys second-hand or at least keeps clothes long after they’re worn out) indicates he probably has a ‘proper’ job now. He also cares about how he looks more perhaps- Louis before too caught up in anger at the world and politics, now thinks of himself more.
And Prior. We never really see Prior in ‘normal’ clothes. We see him in Pyjamas, hospital gowns, heavenly robes and his ‘Prophet’ outfit.  These serve a purpose other than simply clothes- even his funeral outfit at the start we can assume is chosen in part as a sort of armour- like the more extreme Prophet outfit later. Every day Prior is missing in all that. This feels like an evolved version of that. Well-tailored, smart and put together this is probably who Prior wanted to be all along before being derailed. Although Kushner suggests ‘bundled up’ it’s smart to simply put him in an overcoat and scarf- bundled up would make him look frail and this Prior isn’t frail. He’s put back together and fighting. His coat is smart, a timeless chequered herringbone design. He wears a woolly jumper in burgundy carefully coordinated with his winter scarf. Gone are the outlandish prints or over the top outfits, it’s stripped back clean and simple- again perhaps a marker of his wider attitude to life. His hair is tidied and styled for the first time really since the opening scene. His glasses, while an indicator of his still ailing sight, are stylish (of course). Prior feels put back together again in this outfit.
The Epilogue tells us a few vital things no matter how it’s staged- that Hannah stayed in New York, that she stayed friend with Prior and by default Louis and Belize. That Louis and Prior stayed friends, and that Belize is still friends with all of them. They’ve formed a strange urban family of sorts. We find Prior has been living with AIDS for 5 years (6 whole months longer than he lived with Louis) and intends to go on living more. There’s theories to have around what happened before and
The narrative of the Epilogue is useful, but it’s existence in terms of staging is more vital, particularly in this production. Firstly, Elliott directs both plays as one. There’s no real seam between Millennium and Perestroika, yes there is a shift in style, but this stems from the text and is a gradual build rather than an outright distinction. That build, which begins actually begins at the end of Millennium as Harper creates Antarctica in her mind, as the dense set of the first half strips back. Things remain stripped back, the Brechtian notes build until we reach ‘Heaven’. At which point everything is stripped back to the shell of the theatre. The Epilogue is the logical conclusion of this- when the last crack in the fourth wall falls. And it’s vital for the play to work to have Prior give the audience that moment- to turn it on them.
Elliott plays it well. The Heaven scene sets up the extended idea of the stage and auditorium as sharing the same space. And subtly she builds on this from the opening of the Epilogue. The house lights begin to get higher, gradually so it’s barely noticeable. But by the time Prior is addressing the audience, they are fully lit. But the realistic sounds of New York echo in the background. The room is at once Central Park and the Lyttleton again. It’s a vital moment of blurring lines and walls. There is also a moment of switch with the lights on the audience- we are vulnerable now. (I actually mentally cursed Elliott for this the first time as well) . After an entire day of seeing Prior at his most vulnerable, it’s us who are exposed- and with it compelled to follow his command.
Garfield shifts his performance too, I’ve written before about a theory of that moment in his performance bleeding both actor and performer- is it a bit of Prior an Garfield addressing us at that moment? Perhaps. And although he starts his monologue earlier in the scene with ‘Let’s turn the volume down on this’ that portion of Prior’s address is delivered as a monologue, within the world of the play. It’s at the final line of the first monologue ‘It’s January 1990’ that something switches in his delivery- he leans in a makes it clear to the audience it’s for them. His tone shift, like a lecturer romanticising on the play. He shares a nod a joke with the audience ‘I like them best when they’re statuary’. And then Prior/Garfield breaks the walls down for everyone else- until now, in the background in character. With his ‘Louis will tell you her story’ he breaks Louis out of that world and into the world he is addressing – our world. McArdle plays is well with a startled ‘Oh. Um’ and a look of realising the audience are suddenly there. With him Belize and Hannah seem to also blur the lines as well. The three of them stand somewhat awkwardly with Prior like children suddenly presented to meet a teacher as he concludes his speech.
There’s a sheer sense of joy to that final speech however, there’s no fear to Garfield’s Prior at this point. It’s celebratory. He’s made it this far, surrounded by friends and he plans to carry on. And his enthusiasm for it is infectious. He in this moment seems to feel invincible and that conveys to the audience. It’s possible for Prior to retain some fear at this point, frailty or wariness. None of that in him. It’s defiant, joyous but it is also very much an invocation to the audience. The Epilogue is the reason that I never leave Angels in tears-not this production anyway. I leave emotional, I leave ripped apart and put back together. I sob my way through Prior in Heaven, and through Harper’s monologue. But while the Epilogue is overwhelmingly emotional it’s also joyous. It’s full of hope and it puts the action of the play in our hands. And it is for me the most perfect ending to the play. ‘More Life’ indeed.
I get that for some people the Epilogue doesn’t work. That it might feel like reaching for things, forced tying up of loose ends. Or an odd theatrical device that isn’t needed. But for me that theatrical punctuation is exactly needed- Elliott shows this perfectly with this production. It’s precisely how the theatrical conclusion should be reached. And while theatrically it’s a perfect ending, in terms of character it doesn’t so much neatly tie up endings, but open many more questions. And that’s also why I love it.
‘You’ve got to have a theory’ Louis tells us.  And oh I have plenty. The second half of this post is about my theories, ideas and alright, outright fan-fiction about what it all means in the Epilogue in terms of character.
First the absent friends- Joe and Harper. Kushner has said that he tried to or attempted to write Joe’s story. But actually, like Joe I prefer it a little lost. Joe is the only one without a resolution, and that works because Joe at this point is without resolution. He probably spends some, if not many years ‘Lost’ as Harper instructs him-unintentionally so. There are probably a few more Louis’ in his future- men equally lost or damaged he falls in with. I feel Joe at this point is set on a self-destructive path of certainly more damaging relationships and sex, probably alcohol and maybe drugs.  He probably ends up infected with HIV despite all his protestations to Louis, more through a subconscious self-damaging streak. Does he speak to his Mother still? Probably not for a while, or at least in a strained manner. I like to think they eventually reconnect, and that in part Hannah’s staying in New York is in the hope of that. Does Joe eventually sort himself out? Yes, but I think he must go a long way down the rabbit hole for that to happen. There’s a lot of damage to undo and make sense of for Joe. 
Harper, finally free. Does she ever come back? Probably not. Does she stay in touch? In one way or another. Perhaps her ‘tantalising postcards’ come to Prior, much to the confusion of Belize and Louis, but to a knowing glance from Hannah. I think whatever cosmic link she has with Prior stays forever. The occasional vivid dream, drunken moment or simply daydream of vulnerability sees them connecting. If she does return to New York, it’s only Prior she sees- in the real world once again finally. But she’s happy wherever she is- like Hannah she starts again, and builds a life. It doesn’t matter we don’t know what she does because we know she’s going to be ok now.
And what of those we do see? Well Hannah has become a New Yorker. At some point realising Joe was probably lost to her for now (Unlike the film version where they have a momentary resolution, I see these two as torn apart for much of the foreseeable future). But having sold her house and had epiphany of a different kind at the hands of the Angel Hannah decides to stay. In my head, she does of course come back to visit Prior that same day, and the next, and the next. She possibly takes over from Belize taking care of him when he comes home, and probably never really stops- we see her in the Epilogue walking on arm in arm with him. Prior is easily affectionate with her and she accepts his kisses to her hands- she’s more at ease with physical contact than she ever was earlier in the play. What does Hannah do? I’d imagine she finds a quiet job somewhere- perhaps some kind of caring profession like a teaching assistant or something in a hospital. Or perhaps a little shop job. Either way she enjoys the independence. She’s still a Mormon-or at least still religious in some way, but not in a way that it dominates her life anymore. She’d volunteer-helping people. But more importantly she has her own life now- away from husband, the suffocating nature of Salt Lake and perhaps more regrettably from her son.
Belize? Well Belize is just doing what Belize does. He’s continuing to be fabulous in every way. Still fighting the good fight, and getting on with life. I kind of hope he gets a promotion at work (despite his slightly illegal activities with the drugs) and that he perhaps makes it more official with his ‘Man uptown’ in short I just hope he’s happy. And he’s Belize, he probably makes it happen.  And he’s still there at Prior’s side- their friendship has exceeded 10 years by this point (assuming they knew each other a year or two before Louis and Prior meet) and is the most enduring in Prior’s life (who doesn’t seem to have many friends). Oh and I think Belize goes back to Drag. Only in part to annoy Louis.
Louis, ah Louis. It’s tempting to think that everything that happened in the play is a kick up the arse and he changes overnight. But people don’t change like that, Louis certainly doesn’t. But everything that happens in the play I think puts him on the right path. He finally gets a job for a start- a proper one, not just a temp ‘word processor’. Louis is smart, we know that but he’s not found a use for the smarts he has. Politics is an obvious answer for Louis- a use for all the knowledge and ranting, but perhaps not. Perhaps an environment to encourage that side of him isn’t for the best. There’s a part of me that can see Louis as a teacher. The slightly off the wall history teacher who does a good side-line in politics. It also feels like a stable, calming influence for him. Whatever he discovers in those 5 years it stabilises him. He’s still Louis, but the venom is mostly gone from him. He’s not so much grown up as grown into himself.  
Prior, well firstly he gets well.  As well as he’s going to. The line ‘this is my life now’ in the scene before is so important- the element both of accepting his fate but also accepting his illness as part of him. Health wise it was no doubt a hard road from where Prior was at the end of the play to five years later, there would have been set backs and health scares and possibly another few close calls. But he’s lucky to have been the right side of drugs being developed and healthy enough for them to be of use. And five years later there he is. Health wise I always feared the worst for Prior- that his ‘I plan to be’ was too optimistic and in 1995 when Kushner was writing it may well have felt too optimistic for some. But that’s the beauty of revival- we can now see it wasn’t. There are plenty of Priors out there now- diagnosed in the late 80s and living their lives fully and healthily today.  And so I choose to say Prior was right- he sees that next Spring in the park, and the next and the next. More importantly it means Prior gets to live the life he hadn’t. His ‘I haven’t done anything yet’ is accurate- he’s living off a trust fund, being a club promoter in short indeed not doing a great deal. I think once he’s well again he changes that. Perhaps a bit of self-projection but I think he does something vaguely academic. I certainly think he goes back to school of some kind- uses his Trust Fund to support something different. I could see him doing something in religious studies and philosophy to finally unlock some of those Angel theories he has. Prior is intelligent, and I think whatever he does post-Angels is something that actually puts that intelligence to use. And he has a network now. He has Hannah, and Belize and I also think Nurse Emily stays in touch (and Harper somewhere out there). And perhaps Prior, who I see as a bit lonely before, makes friends through his AIDS diagnosis with others like him- in a strange way it is the making of him, and he endures.
And what of him and Louis? I’ve always loved that they stay friends, that to live through all that does bring you closer despite all of it. And that’s where I’ve always accepted it. But here’s the thing, when Prior in this production says ‘You can’t ever come back.’….I don’t believe him.
There’s still clearly something there between them- there’s some interesting body language in the Epilogue, particularly if you watch McArdle whenever Belize is near Prior. (one performance also saw an adorable, but also telling ‘play slapping’ between him and Belize). But there’s also simply the way his Louis looks at Prior still.  Louis’ feelings seem not to have changed- there’s a lovely line in puppy-dog glances and possessive body language McArdle gives us in the Epilogue. But there’s something there from Garfield as well, an easy charm with ‘his’ Louis that may just be a Prior now happy in his skin, his ‘family’ and one of his now oldest friends (going on 10 years at the time of the Epilogue).  There’s a 100 way to interpret their relationship and where it may have gone. But if I were writing the ‘fan fiction’ of this (which let’s face it that’s what I’m doing here) this is what I’d say…
Louis and Prior do stay friends. Louis is initially devastated by the fact that Prior says he can’t come back and that’s when the break up really hits him. But he’s determined to show Prior he has changed, so he puts on a front, and is there for Prior while he’s recovering. He doesn’t run away even though he’s now hurting at being rejected-he understands now that he deserves it and why. But when he says he still loves Prior it’s true, both in terms of romantic and platonic love. So he’s there for him this time.  At that point Prior really couldn’t take Louis back- he’s focused on recovering, on dealing with his diagnosis now. But they do slowly go back to being friends and in fact are closer than before (probably initially much to Belize’s disgust). And Louis is good and loyal because underneath- he is. And as time passes they end up in this comfortable, incredibly close friendship that sometimes exes do indeed manage.
Prior doesn’t date anyone else. And this is what would set suspicions alight. He is adamant it’s to focus on his health, and later putting his life back together. And there’s probably some element of not being able to move forward into a relationship, yes, some damage that Louis did but also that he and Louis seem to have this inextricable connection. Louis does date, but not seriously. Prior berates his choices with an withering amusement that none of them will be serious and none of them will last- and he’s right. And it is of course Prior he comes running to every time it goes wrong. Meanwhile Belize, all seeing all knowing suspects Prior still holds feelings for Louis and knows full well Louis always will for Prior. And he’s protective as ever, but he (perhaps with a word from Hannah) knows that Louis has grown up, and indeed that Prior knows his own mind (or will eventually when they figure it out and admit it all).
So where are they five years later? It feels like they’re drawing closer again. Perhaps there’s been a few slips into something more than friends when they’re alone. Perhaps not yet, perhaps each is trying to work up the nerve to admit things to themselves or each other. But there’s still something there, and the timing is starting to feel right. My instinct is that they haven’t actually got back together at this point, but they’re very much on the verge of it. Five years also feels like a suitable watershed and a suitable moment of ‘If it hasn’t’ gone away now it never will. And if you’re still here you still will be’ Prior and Louis have known each other nearing 10 years now, and Prior ‘not ever’ is a really long time…and I still don’t believe you.  

‘You’ve got to have a theory’- Epilogue Thoughts

The Epilogue is perhaps the richest of all scenes in the entire two plays.
It divides people with some believing the whole thing would be better left at the point of the final ‘real time’ scenes. (So Prior and Louis’ final exchange and Harper’s monologue).  And while there’s a case for that- nothing is left entirely resolved and open to interpretation- the Epilogue only gives us clues that the respective directors and actors can play with. There’s also an important theatrical point to be made with the style of the Epilogue as well- and all this combines to really change the sense of the ending.
It’s a short (by Kushner standards) scene but also dialogue heavy. It is five years later- January 1990, and Prior, Louis, Belize and Hannah visit the Bethesda fountain. In the film version it is Prior’s Birthday (he reminds us Thomas Jefferson died on his Birthday, Belize reminds him he isn’t Thomas Jefferson) In the play version, there’s no scripted reason for them to assemble, other than it’s something they now do. Which is something.
The 2007 version (Headlong, Daniel Kramer) cut most of the Epilogue, having Prior step out of his bed and address the audience. The politics edited out seen as dated and unnecessary perhaps. Here the politics- Louis and Belize bickering over Perestroika and Yugoslavia were deemed ‘dated’ and perhaps distracting, so the Epilogue focused only on Prior’s invocation to the audience. A valid approach but one that loses the wider sense of ‘what happened next’ that feels as valuable as the theatrical trope of fourth wall breaking and shift to the audience. And the way the Epilogue is played can also influence the final reading of the characters, and indeed the feeling you take away from the play. I don’t remember the same feeling of sheer hopefulness in 2007 as I do in 2017.
This version of the Epilogue in Elliott’s 2017 version is an example of how a production, and even a scene can change a whole take on a play. Personally, I’ve always had a rather macabre outlook. Asked about Rent (my other PhD text) and challenged on the ‘fairy-tale’ ending of it, I often reply ‘but Mimi’s a junkie with AIDS how long is she really going to last in the mid-80s.’ Harsh but, fair perhaps. I’ve always had a similarly grim outlook for Prior. Unlike my slightly dismissive attitude of Mimi (she gets on my nerves…oops) I do take a rather Motherly attitude towards Prior (call me Mother Pitt). But I always worried Kushner is giving us the glint of hope before reality snaps in. However, there is something so utterly hopeful in this production that is in a way utterly ineffable.  A great deal of which stems from the Epilogue- from the way the characters look, to their body language and interaction with each other and the staging of it in terms of what the audience is supposed to take away.
Firstly, costumes. I could write a book on these. Hannah and Prior are the only ones with actual descriptions of their appearance. Prior is described as ‘is heavily bundled, and he has thick glasses on and supports himself with a cane’ meanwhile Hannah Is noticeably different- she looks like a New Yorker and is reading The New York Times’ These two, have in the past five years, undergone the most radical changes, and it’s noted in their appearance. Hannah is dressed in a smart trench coat, black dress and smart black heels no longer the dowdier ‘Salt Lake City’ stylings of before, but sharp lines of an 80s New Yorker. Her overall demeanour shifts with the outfit- holding herself taller, asserting herself in the conversation with Belize and Louis.

Using some curtain call pictures as ones of the actual costumes are hard to find…
Belize meanwhile is as fabulous as ever. His signature bright colours remain, though perhaps a little toned down, a littler trendier rather than deliberately outlandish. In a similar checked coat to his earlier one- this one yellow rather than pink- and stonewash, 90s style jeans, along with his signature scarf- a plainer yellow and brown to match the coat. Belize is chic, fashionable and still fabulous. But perhaps a bit more grown up, a little less trying to scream a statement with his clothes, but still marking his personality. It’s a subtle shift in Belize, indicating he hasn’t changed quite as much. An indicator that Belize is our most ‘together’ of characters- he’s probably changed as we all do over 5 years but not substantially as Belize was already secure in himself, mature and sure of himself. His unchanged, only slightly updated, hip 90s wardrobe show Belize continues to simply be fabulous Belize.

Louis. Oh Louis. It’s subtle but he changes as much as Prior and Hannah. He has shoes on for a start. It might seem a minor detail, but five years later Louis is wearing smart dress shoes. Every other scene from work to his Grandmother’s funeral he’s worn the same battered trainers. He’s also wearing a smart coat, what’s more one that fits. As do his trousers and shirt. They’re also subtly colour coordinated- shades of dark blue. The last time we saw Louis he was wearing a grey T-shirt that didn’t quite fit properly and possibly also hadn’t been washed in several days. This is also the Louis who wore trainers to his Grandmother’s funeral. Now Louis I don’t want to sound like your Mother but is this a sign you finally learned to dress yourself or something more? Something more. Louis five years ago is a man very much at sea, even before Prior drops his bombshell Louis (and indeed Prior) isn’t a man with his life together. He’s an office temp, seems directionless, and we see that he’s still emotionally young struggles with life. His clothes reflect that- from the shabby overcoat that is too big, to scruffy trousers, untucked scruffy shirts and yes, those trainers. Now, from the things we have seen him go through, and whatever happens in the intervening five years, he looks like someone who is more together. From his more expensive looking clothes (his earlier outfits give mind to someone who either routinely buys second-hand or at least keeps clothes long after they’re worn out) indicates he probably has a ‘proper’ job now. He also cares about how he looks more perhaps- Louis before too caught up in anger at the world and politics, now thinks of himself more.
And Prior. We never really see Prior in ‘normal’ clothes. We see him in Pyjamas, hospital gowns, heavenly robes and his ‘Prophet’ outfit.  These serve a purpose other than simply clothes- even his funeral outfit at the start we can assume is chosen in part as a sort of armour- like the more extreme Prophet outfit later. Every day Prior is missing in all that. This feels like an evolved version of that. Well-tailored, smart and put together this is probably who Prior wanted to be all along before being derailed. Although Kushner suggests ‘bundled up’ it’s smart to simply put him in an overcoat and scarf- bundled up would make him look frail and this Prior isn’t frail. He’s put back together and fighting. His coat is smart, a timeless chequered herringbone design. He wears a woolly jumper in burgundy carefully coordinated with his winter scarf. Gone are the outlandish prints or over the top outfits, it’s stripped back clean and simple- again perhaps a marker of his wider attitude to life. His hair is tidied and styled for the first time really since the opening scene. His glasses, while an indicator of his still ailing sight, are stylish (of course). Prior feels put back together again in this outfit.
The Epilogue tells us a few vital things no matter how it’s staged- that Hannah stayed in New York, that she stayed friend with Prior and by default Louis and Belize. That Louis and Prior stayed friends, and that Belize is still friends with all of them. They’ve formed a strange urban family of sorts. We find Prior has been living with AIDS for 5 years (6 whole months longer than he lived with Louis) and intends to go on living more. There’s theories to have around what happened before and
The narrative of the Epilogue is useful, but it’s existence in terms of staging is more vital, particularly in this production. Firstly, Elliott directs both plays as one. There’s no real seam between Millennium and Perestroika, yes there is a shift in style, but this stems from the text and is a gradual build rather than an outright distinction. That build, which begins actually begins at the end of Millennium as Harper creates Antarctica in her mind, as the dense set of the first half strips back. Things remain stripped back, the Brechtian notes build until we reach ‘Heaven’. At which point everything is stripped back to the shell of the theatre. The Epilogue is the logical conclusion of this- when the last crack in the fourth wall falls. And it’s vital for the play to work to have Prior give the audience that moment- to turn it on them.
Elliott plays it well. The Heaven scene sets up the extended idea of the stage and auditorium as sharing the same space. And subtly she builds on this from the opening of the Epilogue. The house lights begin to get higher, gradually so it’s barely noticeable. But by the time Prior is addressing the audience, they are fully lit. But the realistic sounds of New York echo in the background. The room is at once Central Park and the Lyttleton again. It’s a vital moment of blurring lines and walls. There is also a moment of switch with the lights on the audience- we are vulnerable now. (I actually mentally cursed Elliott for this the first time as well) . After an entire day of seeing Prior at his most vulnerable, it’s us who are exposed- and with it compelled to follow his command.
Garfield shifts his performance too, I’ve written before about a theory of that moment in his performance bleeding both actor and performer- is it a bit of Prior an Garfield addressing us at that moment? Perhaps. And although he starts his monologue earlier in the scene with ‘Let’s turn the volume down on this’ that portion of Prior’s address is delivered as a monologue, within the world of the play. It’s at the final line of the first monologue ‘It’s January 1990’ that something switches in his delivery- he leans in a makes it clear to the audience it’s for them. His tone shift, like a lecturer romanticising on the play. He shares a nod a joke with the audience ‘I like them best when they’re statuary’. And then Prior/Garfield breaks the walls down for everyone else- until now, in the background in character. With his ‘Louis will tell you her story’ he breaks Louis out of that world and into the world he is addressing – our world. McArdle plays is well with a startled ‘Oh. Um’ and a look of realising the audience are suddenly there. With him Belize and Hannah seem to also blur the lines as well. The three of them stand somewhat awkwardly with Prior like children suddenly presented to meet a teacher as he concludes his speech.
There’s a sheer sense of joy to that final speech however, there’s no fear to Garfield’s Prior at this point. It’s celebratory. He’s made it this far, surrounded by friends and he plans to carry on. And his enthusiasm for it is infectious. He in this moment seems to feel invincible and that conveys to the audience. It’s possible for Prior to retain some fear at this point, frailty or wariness. None of that in him. It’s defiant, joyous but it is also very much an invocation to the audience. The Epilogue is the reason that I never leave Angels in tears-not this production anyway. I leave emotional, I leave ripped apart and put back together. I sob my way through Prior in Heaven, and through Harper’s monologue. But while the Epilogue is overwhelmingly emotional it’s also joyous. It’s full of hope and it puts the action of the play in our hands. And it is for me the most perfect ending to the play. ‘More Life’ indeed.
I get that for some people the Epilogue doesn’t work. That it might feel like reaching for things, forced tying up of loose ends. Or an odd theatrical device that isn’t needed. But for me that theatrical punctuation is exactly needed- Elliott shows this perfectly with this production. It’s precisely how the theatrical conclusion should be reached. And while theatrically it’s a perfect ending, in terms of character it doesn’t so much neatly tie up endings, but open many more questions. And that’s also why I love it.
‘You’ve got to have a theory’ Louis tells us.  And oh I have plenty. The second half of this post is about my theories, ideas and alright, outright fan-fiction about what it all means in the Epilogue in terms of character.
First the absent friends- Joe and Harper. Kushner has said that he tried to or attempted to write Joe’s story. But actually, like Joe I prefer it a little lost. Joe is the only one without a resolution, and that works because Joe at this point is without resolution. He probably spends some, if not many years ‘Lost’ as Harper instructs him-unintentionally so. There are probably a few more Louis’ in his future- men equally lost or damaged he falls in with. I feel Joe at this point is set on a self-destructive path of certainly more damaging relationships and sex, probably alcohol and maybe drugs.  He probably ends up infected with HIV despite all his protestations to Louis, more through a subconscious self-damaging streak. Does he speak to his Mother still? Probably not for a while, or at least in a strained manner. I like to think they eventually reconnect, and that in part Hannah’s staying in New York is in the hope of that. Does Joe eventually sort himself out? Yes, but I think he must go a long way down the rabbit hole for that to happen. There’s a lot of damage to undo and make sense of for Joe. 
Harper, finally free. Does she ever come back? Probably not. Does she stay in touch? In one way or another. Perhaps her ‘tantalising postcards’ come to Prior, much to the confusion of Belize and Louis, but to a knowing glance from Hannah. I think whatever cosmic link she has with Prior stays forever. The occasional vivid dream, drunken moment or simply daydream of vulnerability sees them connecting. If she does return to New York, it’s only Prior she sees- in the real world once again finally. But she’s happy wherever she is- like Hannah she starts again, and builds a life. It doesn’t matter we don’t know what she does because we know she’s going to be ok now.
And what of those we do see? Well Hannah has become a New Yorker. At some point realising Joe was probably lost to her for now (Unlike the film version where they have a momentary resolution, I see these two as torn apart for much of the foreseeable future). But having sold her house and had epiphany of a different kind at the hands of the Angel Hannah decides to stay. In my head, she does of course come back to visit Prior that same day, and the next, and the next. She possibly takes over from Belize taking care of him when he comes home, and probably never really stops- we see her in the Epilogue walking on arm in arm with him. Prior is easily affectionate with her and she accepts his kisses to her hands- she’s more at ease with physical contact than she ever was earlier in the play. What does Hannah do? I’d imagine she finds a quiet job somewhere- perhaps some kind of caring profession like a teaching assistant or something in a hospital. Or perhaps a little shop job. Either way she enjoys the independence. She’s still a Mormon-or at least still religious in some way, but not in a way that it dominates her life anymore. She’d volunteer-helping people. But more importantly she has her own life now- away from husband, the suffocating nature of Salt Lake and perhaps more regrettably from her son.
Belize? Well Belize is just doing what Belize does. He’s continuing to be fabulous in every way. Still fighting the good fight, and getting on with life. I kind of hope he gets a promotion at work (despite his slightly illegal activities with the drugs) and that he perhaps makes it more official with his ‘Man uptown’ in short I just hope he’s happy. And he’s Belize, he probably makes it happen.  And he’s still there at Prior’s side- their friendship has exceeded 10 years by this point (assuming they knew each other a year or two before Louis and Prior meet) and is the most enduring in Prior’s life (who doesn’t seem to have many friends). Oh and I think Belize goes back to Drag. Only in part to annoy Louis.
Louis, ah Louis. It’s tempting to think that everything that happened in the play is a kick up the arse and he changes overnight. But people don’t change like that, Louis certainly doesn’t. But everything that happens in the play I think puts him on the right path. He finally gets a job for a start- a proper one, not just a temp ‘word processor’. Louis is smart, we know that but he’s not found a use for the smarts he has. Politics is an obvious answer for Louis- a use for all the knowledge and ranting, but perhaps not. Perhaps an environment to encourage that side of him isn’t for the best. There’s a part of me that can see Louis as a teacher. The slightly off the wall history teacher who does a good side-line in politics. It also feels like a stable, calming influence for him. Whatever he discovers in those 5 years it stabilises him. He’s still Louis, but the venom is mostly gone from him. He’s not so much grown up as grown into himself.  
Prior, well firstly he gets well.  As well as he’s going to. The line ‘this is my life now’ in the scene before is so important- the element both of accepting his fate but also accepting his illness as part of him. Health wise it was no doubt a hard road from where Prior was at the end of the play to five years later, there would have been set backs and health scares and possibly another few close calls. But he’s lucky to have been the right side of drugs being developed and healthy enough for them to be of use. And five years later there he is. Health wise I always feared the worst for Prior- that his ‘I plan to be’ was too optimistic and in 1995 when Kushner was writing it may well have felt too optimistic for some. But that’s the beauty of revival- we can now see it wasn’t. There are plenty of Priors out there now- diagnosed in the late 80s and living their lives fully and healthily today.  And so I choose to say Prior was right- he sees that next Spring in the park, and the next and the next. More importantly it means Prior gets to live the life he hadn’t. His ‘I haven’t done anything yet’ is accurate- he’s living off a trust fund, being a club promoter in short indeed not doing a great deal. I think once he’s well again he changes that. Perhaps a bit of self-projection but I think he does something vaguely academic. I certainly think he goes back to school of some kind- uses his Trust Fund to support something different. I could see him doing something in religious studies and philosophy to finally unlock some of those Angel theories he has. Prior is intelligent, and I think whatever he does post-Angels is something that actually puts that intelligence to use. And he has a network now. He has Hannah, and Belize and I also think Nurse Emily stays in touch (and Harper somewhere out there). And perhaps Prior, who I see as a bit lonely before, makes friends through his AIDS diagnosis with others like him- in a strange way it is the making of him, and he endures.
And what of him and Louis? I’ve always loved that they stay friends, that to live through all that does bring you closer despite all of it. And that’s where I’ve always accepted it. But here’s the thing, when Prior in this production says ‘You can’t ever come back.’….I don’t believe him.
There’s still clearly something there between them- there’s some interesting body language in the Epilogue, particularly if you watch McArdle whenever Belize is near Prior. (one performance also saw an adorable, but also telling ‘play slapping’ between him and Belize). But there’s also simply the way his Louis looks at Prior still.  Louis’ feelings seem not to have changed- there’s a lovely line in puppy-dog glances and possessive body language McArdle gives us in the Epilogue. But there’s something there from Garfield as well, an easy charm with ‘his’ Louis that may just be a Prior now happy in his skin, his ‘family’ and one of his now oldest friends (going on 10 years at the time of the Epilogue).  There’s a 100 way to interpret their relationship and where it may have gone. But if I were writing the ‘fan fiction’ of this (which let’s face it that’s what I’m doing here) this is what I’d say…
Louis and Prior do stay friends. Louis is initially devastated by the fact that Prior says he can’t come back and that’s when the break up really hits him. But he’s determined to show Prior he has changed, so he puts on a front, and is there for Prior while he’s recovering. He doesn’t run away even though he’s now hurting at being rejected-he understands now that he deserves it and why. But when he says he still loves Prior it’s true, both in terms of romantic and platonic love. So he’s there for him this time.  At that point Prior really couldn’t take Louis back- he’s focused on recovering, on dealing with his diagnosis now. But they do slowly go back to being friends and in fact are closer than before (probably initially much to Belize’s disgust). And Louis is good and loyal because underneath- he is. And as time passes they end up in this comfortable, incredibly close friendship that sometimes exes do indeed manage.
Prior doesn’t date anyone else. And this is what would set suspicions alight. He is adamant it’s to focus on his health, and later putting his life back together. And there’s probably some element of not being able to move forward into a relationship, yes, some damage that Louis did but also that he and Louis seem to have this inextricable connection. Louis does date, but not seriously. Prior berates his choices with an withering amusement that none of them will be serious and none of them will last- and he’s right. And it is of course Prior he comes running to every time it goes wrong. Meanwhile Belize, all seeing all knowing suspects Prior still holds feelings for Louis and knows full well Louis always will for Prior. And he’s protective as ever, but he (perhaps with a word from Hannah) knows that Louis has grown up, and indeed that Prior knows his own mind (or will eventually when they figure it out and admit it all).
So where are they five years later? It feels like they’re drawing closer again. Perhaps there’s been a few slips into something more than friends when they’re alone. Perhaps not yet, perhaps each is trying to work up the nerve to admit things to themselves or each other. But there’s still something there, and the timing is starting to feel right. My instinct is that they haven’t actually got back together at this point, but they’re very much on the verge of it. Five years also feels like a suitable watershed and a suitable moment of ‘If it hasn’t’ gone away now it never will. And if you’re still here you still will be’ Prior and Louis have known each other nearing 10 years now, and Prior ‘not ever’ is a really long time…and I still don’t believe you.  

Still waving research in the air (Project book month 2)

This picture continues to be the visual representation of Project Book. Me in two day old clothes raving at people who don’t want to listen (you dear, reader mainly)

Another ‘research update’ that’s more about the state of things than the plays…having abandoned my former PhD blog this seems the place to dump such thoughts.

The last couple of weeks have been hard. The ongoing job situation (or lack of one) and the bigger questions about what I’m doing and why continue to hang over me.

A week or so ago someone told me (in not so many words) that I ‘Might as well give up.’ and that basically very few people ‘make it’ anyway and I’d probably be better off giving up. This was offset a couple of days later by someone else telling me, absolutely not to give up and that I had a talent for a lot of the things I’m trying to do.

So which one to believe? I’m always inclined to quote not Kushner for a change but Pretty Woman ‘The bad stuff is easier to believe’. But I also think person number 1 misinterprets my aims, ambitions. I don’t have the arrogance to believe I’ll be a ‘famous writer’ hell I don’t even believe I’d make a living off it in the sense of it ever being a full time job. What I aspire to in a realistic sense is a job that pays the bills and is intellectually at least somewhat satisfying. Alongside that I’ll continue to do the other things; mainly write.

Right now in the broader sense I feel crushed under the pressure of it all. I can’t be working on everything at once. When life throws you at a crossroads unexpectedly (thanks job for ending early) the pressure to do all the things to make a change becomes immense. When all the options are opened suddenly, the weight of uncertainty and possibility becomes paralyzing. But unfortunately on top of all that, I still have to earn money. So possibly is also entirely limited.

All of this (somehow) brings me back to the Angels book. I’m juggling a lot right now- the debate between just getting another job ‘for now’ versus chasing ‘real career’ stuff. I have two, maybe more other creative projects on the go which also need attention, which could also lead to things. A lot of could out there. But my second person in that list also told me that I ‘had to’ write the Angels book. We talked a lot and it became clear from the outside, and from me that this should be a priority. And it should, it really should. But it’s also proving to be the biggest challenge.

If I’m honest I think what I should be doing right now is working an untaxing job for the money, and writing this book around it. It’s the time to do it, the time will never be this right again (or if it is I’ll have to wait another 10 years). If I don’t do it now, the truth is I probably never will. And again, honestly if I think what my regrets will be in 5, 10, 20 years it will be ‘I never wrote the book.’ Much like perusing my PhD in the first place, it’s the one thing I feel I need to do.

I’ve spent 10 years now working on this play, I fought every step of the way- to get someone to take on the PhD, to get through it, to be a part of the National Theatre’s production. I remember crying about the decision around pursing a job far away versus hanging around for Angels. I chose Angels and in the long an short term I’m still convinced it was right. Even if right now it all feels like a stupid set of decisions. I sacrificed a lot along the road, partly because that’s a PhD, but what’s more I poured my heart and soul into this play for 10 years. I fought so hard because I believe in the work, like nothing else I’ve done in life.  None of it came easy, and all of it comes from a love for the work a desire to share it, to discuss and dissect it. And to keep a conversation going on this important play. I’m not writing this book for career advancement (though I’m sure it won’t hurt) I’m writing it because I have to. I’m writing it because I do think nobody can write it quite like me.

But I panic. Is this all a waste of time? if I take another ‘for now’ job with the idea that I work on the book in my spare time…and it’s all for nothing. I find myself in another year, with nothing to show.  I’ve already wasted so much of my life on the PhD on this play that it’s perhaps time to give it all up. Put it away and chalk it up to experience. I had a great summer with the new production, but perhaps that’s all I get and I should move on, get myself another admin job and forget it all. Or I could say I’ve come this far, give it another go. But if another year down the line, another stuck in a day job I hate and nothing more so show for it, what then?

On one hand I look around me at academics and think ‘why do all of you manage to publish your PhD and I don’t?’ it’s probably a marker of again my failed academic status. I know I’m not good enough. But I know the work is good enough. I know it’s work worth publishing. With the greatest respect to all academics out there every day I see books published that are far more niche interest than my own would be. So surely, surely there’s a place for me? But it makes you lose perspective. In the academic world everyone has a book, it’s taken as given. But in the real world it’s seen as an amazing accomplishment. Academia skews your reality yet again. But ultimately there’s no place for me or the book in academia and it makes me cry with frustration. 

And there’s also the elephant in the room. The ‘Other Book’ being published early next year on Angels. It’s hard to write about because I respect the authors behind it greatly, I participated in it, and I’m really glad it exists. It’s a great work, (pardon the pun) that will be immensely useful, interesting and worth having in the world. But I have to be honest, right now it’s existence breaks my heart. I spent 10 years working on this play all told. I fought every step of the way. And it seems more and more likely, this book means the likelihood of my own is diminishing. And that’s life, that’s the industry, and that’s my own sheer bad luck. But it doesn’t mean I’m not crying about it all (again) as I type this.

But put all that aside, and the other thing is I love writing this book. In the moments I get to just sit and write or research away from the crippling panic about publishing it I’ve not been this happy in anything I’ve done in years. I wasn’t this happy doing the PhD because everything I was doing was being changed, directed, altered. Here I am just writing the story of the play I always wanted to tell (obviously a mythical editor will change that, I’m not naive but for now…). I’ve been writing about elements of the play I never got to visit before, and revisiting things I love to think and write about. And there’ a whole new production to explore and unpick and unravel. And there’s excitement and magic in that. This is a thing I know, but it’s also a thing I love. The other weekend I spent a couple of the happiest hours I’d had in months talking to Mateo Oxley (who understudied Andrew Garfield) about all things Angels. I can’t quite put into words how exciting and inspiring it was to spend time not only fully immersed in the research again but to speak with someone who shared my passion (and level of nerdiness for it). It made me feel for a bit that I wasn’t wasting my time.Talking this research with someone who’d actually been a part of the production, feeling their enthusiasm for what I am trying to do..makes me feel there’s something there.  And that’s what this summer, and interest not only in the play but in the way I talk and write about it did- made me think I have something to say. And it  made me love it again.

Part of me thinks that should be enough. That I just throw it all up on here or somewhere for people to read and be done with it. But then if we’re talking about ambitions, about ‘making it’. If I could publish this book. If I could feel I’d put all that I’d poured these 10 years, sacrifices and frankly insanity into. If I could feel I made something out of all that, that would be enough. It’s at once a big ambition and a small one. It’s small in that it’s all I want- I don’t aspire to it leading to anything grander. But it’s huge in that it’s a mountain to climb to get there.

And so what now? Honestly I don’t know. I feel I’ve already run out of options. Academic publishers don’t want it. Though I still have a couple of options to follow up. Neither does anyone else. I’m still writing, I’m not rushing. I want it done right, not quick. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to be Louis at the top of this blog; shouting about things nobody cares about until someone listens (Hey there’s an Epilogue theory, maybe Louis wrote a poorly received book on a topic nobody cared about anymore…)

This has mainly been a lot of my venting/crying onto a page, but that’s where I’m at right now. I promise a post that includes a LOT of nerdy costume references to make up for it. In the meantime have a picture of James McArdle, that always cheers me up:

Still waving research in the air (Project book month 2)

This picture continues to be the visual representation of Project Book. Me in two day old clothes raving at people who don’t want to listen (you dear, reader mainly)

Another ‘research update’ that’s more about the state of things than the plays…having abandoned my former PhD blog this seems the place to dump such thoughts.

The last couple of weeks have been hard. The ongoing job situation (or lack of one) and the bigger questions about what I’m doing and why continue to hang over me.

A week or so ago someone told me (in not so many words) that I ‘Might as well give up.’ and that basically very few people ‘make it’ anyway and I’d probably be better off giving up. This was offset a couple of days later by someone else telling me, absolutely not to give up and that I had a talent for a lot of the things I’m trying to do.

So which one to believe? I’m always inclined to quote not Kushner for a change but Pretty Woman ‘The bad stuff is easier to believe’. But I also think person number 1 misinterprets my aims, ambitions. I don’t have the arrogance to believe I’ll be a ‘famous writer’ hell I don’t even believe I’d make a living off it in the sense of it ever being a full time job. What I aspire to in a realistic sense is a job that pays the bills and is intellectually at least somewhat satisfying. Alongside that I’ll continue to do the other things; mainly write.

Right now in the broader sense I feel crushed under the pressure of it all. I can’t be working on everything at once. When life throws you at a crossroads unexpectedly (thanks job for ending early) the pressure to do all the things to make a change becomes immense. When all the options are opened suddenly, the weight of uncertainty and possibility becomes paralyzing. But unfortunately on top of all that, I still have to earn money. So possibly is also entirely limited.

All of this (somehow) brings me back to the Angels book. I’m juggling a lot right now- the debate between just getting another job ‘for now’ versus chasing ‘real career’ stuff. I have two, maybe more other creative projects on the go which also need attention, which could also lead to things. A lot of could out there. But my second person in that list also told me that I ‘had to’ write the Angels book. We talked a lot and it became clear from the outside, and from me that this should be a priority. And it should, it really should. But it’s also proving to be the biggest challenge.

If I’m honest I think what I should be doing right now is working an untaxing job for the money, and writing this book around it. It’s the time to do it, the time will never be this right again (or if it is I’ll have to wait another 10 years). If I don’t do it now, the truth is I probably never will. And again, honestly if I think what my regrets will be in 5, 10, 20 years it will be ‘I never wrote the book.’ Much like perusing my PhD in the first place, it’s the one thing I feel I need to do.

I’ve spent 10 years now working on this play, I fought every step of the way- to get someone to take on the PhD, to get through it, to be a part of the National Theatre’s production. I remember crying about the decision around pursing a job far away versus hanging around for Angels. I chose Angels and in the long an short term I’m still convinced it was right. Even if right now it all feels like a stupid set of decisions. I sacrificed a lot along the road, partly because that’s a PhD, but what’s more I poured my heart and soul into this play for 10 years. I fought so hard because I believe in the work, like nothing else I’ve done in life.  None of it came easy, and all of it comes from a love for the work a desire to share it, to discuss and dissect it. And to keep a conversation going on this important play. I’m not writing this book for career advancement (though I’m sure it won’t hurt) I’m writing it because I have to. I’m writing it because I do think nobody can write it quite like me.

But I panic. Is this all a waste of time? if I take another ‘for now’ job with the idea that I work on the book in my spare time…and it’s all for nothing. I find myself in another year, with nothing to show.  I’ve already wasted so much of my life on the PhD on this play that it’s perhaps time to give it all up. Put it away and chalk it up to experience. I had a great summer with the new production, but perhaps that’s all I get and I should move on, get myself another admin job and forget it all. Or I could say I’ve come this far, give it another go. But if another year down the line, another stuck in a day job I hate and nothing more so show for it, what then?

On one hand I look around me at academics and think ‘why do all of you manage to publish your PhD and I don’t?’ it’s probably a marker of again my failed academic status. I know I’m not good enough. But I know the work is good enough. I know it’s work worth publishing. With the greatest respect to all academics out there every day I see books published that are far more niche interest than my own would be. So surely, surely there’s a place for me? But it makes you lose perspective. In the academic world everyone has a book, it’s taken as given. But in the real world it’s seen as an amazing accomplishment. Academia skews your reality yet again. But ultimately there’s no place for me or the book in academia and it makes me cry with frustration. 

And there’s also the elephant in the room. The ‘Other Book’ being published early next year on Angels. It’s hard to write about because I respect the authors behind it greatly, I participated in it, and I’m really glad it exists. It’s a great work, (pardon the pun) that will be immensely useful, interesting and worth having in the world. But I have to be honest, right now it’s existence breaks my heart. I spent 10 years working on this play all told. I fought every step of the way. And it seems more and more likely, this book means the likelihood of my own is diminishing. And that’s life, that’s the industry, and that’s my own sheer bad luck. But it doesn’t mean I’m not crying about it all (again) as I type this.

But put all that aside, and the other thing is I love writing this book. In the moments I get to just sit and write or research away from the crippling panic about publishing it I’ve not been this happy in anything I’ve done in years. I wasn’t this happy doing the PhD because everything I was doing was being changed, directed, altered. Here I am just writing the story of the play I always wanted to tell (obviously a mythical editor will change that, I’m not naive but for now…). I’ve been writing about elements of the play I never got to visit before, and revisiting things I love to think and write about. And there’ a whole new production to explore and unpick and unravel. And there’s excitement and magic in that. This is a thing I know, but it’s also a thing I love. The other weekend I spent a couple of the happiest hours I’d had in months talking to Mateo Oxley (who understudied Andrew Garfield) about all things Angels. I can’t quite put into words how exciting and inspiring it was to spend time not only fully immersed in the research again but to speak with someone who shared my passion (and level of nerdiness for it). It made me feel for a bit that I wasn’t wasting my time.Talking this research with someone who’d actually been a part of the production, feeling their enthusiasm for what I am trying to do..makes me feel there’s something there.  And that’s what this summer, and interest not only in the play but in the way I talk and write about it did- made me think I have something to say. And it  made me love it again.

Part of me thinks that should be enough. That I just throw it all up on here or somewhere for people to read and be done with it. But then if we’re talking about ambitions, about ‘making it’. If I could publish this book. If I could feel I’d put all that I’d poured these 10 years, sacrifices and frankly insanity into. If I could feel I made something out of all that, that would be enough. It’s at once a big ambition and a small one. It’s small in that it’s all I want- I don’t aspire to it leading to anything grander. But it’s huge in that it’s a mountain to climb to get there.

And so what now? Honestly I don’t know. I feel I’ve already run out of options. Academic publishers don’t want it. Though I still have a couple of options to follow up. Neither does anyone else. I’m still writing, I’m not rushing. I want it done right, not quick. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to be Louis at the top of this blog; shouting about things nobody cares about until someone listens (Hey there’s an Epilogue theory, maybe Louis wrote a poorly received book on a topic nobody cared about anymore…)

This has mainly been a lot of my venting/crying onto a page, but that’s where I’m at right now. I promise a post that includes a LOT of nerdy costume references to make up for it. In the meantime have a picture of James McArdle, that always cheers me up:

Holding the Man (some thoughts, not a review)

This isn’t a ‘review’ because I saw this too close to the end of the run, but some plays make you want to put pen to paper regardless. It’s also not a review, as this is filled with the kind of personal anecdotal nonsense that people tell me doesn’t belong in my blog.

Well screw that, this is my blog, and for this one I’m writing it how I’d like.

A little background. For anyone who doesn’t know me, I wrote my PhD in what essentially translates to ‘Plays about AIDS’. There’s a far more sophisticated description. But for the purposes of today, that about covers it. For anyone who wants more of that nonsense, my side blog is here

I started my PhD in September 2010. In June 2010 (June 21st, I looked it up. Yes I keep a list) I saw ‘Holding the Man’ for the first time. I actually had no idea what it was about going in, I was actually just a bit obsessed with Simon Burke at the time so booked to see him (what of it?). And so by accident as a little pre-term treat to myself I booked the ‘Australian AIDS play’. I loved it. I laughed. I cried. It became one of my favourite plays of the ‘genre’ (for want of a better word) that I was studying. I read the play and the book over and over during my PhD. Both became a sort of ‘retreat’ from the other work I was doing. They became along with a few other things- the writings of Tim Miller for one, a place to be reminded about why I was doing what I was doing. I was never allowed to write about the play in my research. The narrow minded view of my PhD supervisors had no place for British plays, let alone Australian ones. (But she also had no place for War Horse, so she’s basically dead inside).

So now, two years out of the PhD, and in a new kind of research hell (hello book attempts) it felt like a great time to revisit this play. And the team at Above the Stag have done a wonderful job. It’s the perfect kind of venue, and perfect team for this play, the intimate setting really lets the actors hit home the powerful story. And the minimal (but visually stunning) backdrop lets the story shine through.

Holding the Man begins as a story about two young men in school, discovering their sexuality and each other. Based on Timothy Conigrave’s memoir of the same name, about him and his love John Caleo. The title is a great play on a term from Aussie Rules Football, which John plays in school and college- it’s an offence that incurs penalty. In Conigrave/Murphy’s writing of the story, the penalty for ‘Holding the Man’ ends up being severe indeed.

The actors playing Tim (Jamie Barnard) and John (Ben Boskovic) have the added challenge of playing the boys from early teens up to their 30s. And both take us from wide eyed teenage innocence through struggles in their 20s, through to the anguish that comes with their AIDS diagnosis. Barnard as Tim narrates the story, addressing the audience sporadically throughout the play, and his easy charm draws the audience in. There’s a great chemistry with Boskovic, who plays the at first hesitant John with an endearing charm. Both actors are funny and charming an make you fall in love with them, and their relationship. The first half of the play is funny and sweet as they discover each other at school, fall for each other and then struggle with life outside their high school bubble. Both play the conflict with a real honesty that cuts to the heart of how first love can be both intoxicating and soul destroying.

Around Barnard and Boskovic are a brilliant ensemble who create the rest of Tim and John’s world. The structure of Murphy’s play is beautifully theatrical, with actors doubling across multiple roles as friends, parents and other lovers. This adds some fantastic moments of comedy with Robert Thompson and Annabel Pemberton in particular offering some hilarious moments as supporting characters. As the set- David Shields’ beautiful neon backdrops, combined with a series of function black panels and boxes, allows the story to move from year to year, and city to city, the backdrop of characters form Tim and John’s life in the 80s and early 90s.

Of course life takes a darker turn. We start hearing about AIDS before the characters encounter it. But ultimately we see their diagnosis. Murphy’s script cleverly takes us away from the logistics of medical elements- though these are there- and keeps things firmly rooted in the emotional, psychological elements that surround that diagnosis. The mysteries of the late 80s and all the questions sill unanswerable, all the ones nobody wanted to know in a way-who infected who and when. There are some wonderful moments of staging and dramatic writing around this. When Tim hears elements of his play, inter-cut with his own medical diagnosis is a hard hitting but beautiful way to convey the feelings of confusion, and the very real medical impact he was suffering. The play-within-a-play is a nice reference to the use of theatre as a response, and a nod to the more ‘worthy’ plays that often sprang up.

Ultimately this play rests on the central performances of Barnard and Boskovic. And as the play moves towards it’s inevitable conclusion, both of them deliver. Boskovic in particular shines in the scene where he confesses what he wished he’d done in life. The sense of quiet resignation and regret is heartbreaking to watch. And Barnard gets the tough job of delivering Tim’s final monologue directly after John dies. The final words ‘A gift to John. The End.’ he delivers with such sweetness and vulnerability, that I defy anyone in the audience to hold it together at that point.

And yes for me, Holding the Man proved a highly emotional, but also cathartic experience. Having spent the summer with ‘the other AIDS play’ one I have a complex emotional relationship with, and that moves and affects me in different ways. The outright emotional impact of Holding the Man is actually really refreshing. And that has in part always been the appeal of this play. For me Holding the Man, the play and Timothy Conigrave’s original book, were a refreshing voice in the predominantly American dialogue on HIV/AIDS. Britain has a few voices in this- the equally refreshing and incredibly British ‘My Night With Reg’ springs to mind as a comparable example. What I loved about Holding the Man was the refreshing humour of the piece. Not just in the early scenes when ‘everything is fine’ but right to the end, a darker humour admittedly but still there. It’s not holier than thou. It even makes a slight wink at the more ‘worthy’ AIDS plays within the narrative. but also it’s an AIDS play that isn’t just an AIDS play. Really it’s a coming-of-age story, albeit one with a really tragic ending.

But what Holding the Man does so well is give over to simplicity. It’s important that we had the political plays, the ones that shouted at the leaders failing to lead. But ultimately, what they were shouting about was people. Holding the Man gives us that powerful, personal story, and it’s one that will still break your heart. And I think in all the noise, in all the career panic, in the publish the book anguish, once again I’d lost sight of some of the reasons I’d been doing what I’d been doing. And in a weekend where I saw one of the ‘hot tickets’ in the West End that left me cold and bored (and my arse numb) it was so refreshing to see a company that clearly put its heart and soul into a ply.

I’m glad I came back to this play. It has a way of finding me when I needed it. Back in 2010 it spurred me on gave me something at first new to inspire me, and then a fall back to remind me of what drove me. In 2017, this wonderful cast in the tiny theatre under the arches gave me that again. I had a damn good cry, left the theatre and picked myself back up again. Because there’s something really inspiring about Conigrave’s story. That fight right to the end, the book as a gift to John, and the legacy that lives on.

One detail I left out. This whole PhD madness started in a way, with Hugh Jackman in ‘The Boy from Oz’. From that musical I started reading around plays about HIV/AIDS. And it led me all this way. In Act 1, this production used Peter Allen’s music. I’m not one to believe in signs usually, but maybe somewhere someone is telling me keep going.

Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle

The idea of music existing “between the notes” seems to be the best description of Heisenberg. A bit like the principle from which it takes it’s name, that you cannot view a thing and observe it’s momentum at once. The music analogy is more romantic though. And there is romance to Stephens’ script. Even if it is not the traditional kind.

The script itself feels a bit like a science experiment- a viewing of distinct, choice moments in a relationship history. Again with gaps, unobserved, unknown where we cannot be certain where our particles- Georgie and Alex- are in those moments. Neither can we quite be sure where they are heading at any given moment we do observe them. Science analogies aside, seeing only snapshots of a relationship, watching it evolve in abstract is both charming and engaging. It feels like a series of dates for the audience, and it draws us in wondering about the next moment as well as the ones missed in between. It’s a fast-paced, contemporary feeling way to catch up with an unusual relationship drama.

The plot follows Georgie and Alex- she a 42 year old woman, he a 72 year old man as she kisses him on the neck in a station, through to New Jersey, a hunt for her son and a complex at times questionable relationship. They move through bafflement (mostly his) to flirtation (hers initially but he soon joins in) to deception (possibly, her or possibly incredibly frank honesty), to recrimination and reconciliation. It’s a fast paced perpetual motion that means- to continue the metaphor- you couldn’t pin down where anyone is exactly if you tried.

The pace is pulled along by Elliott’s direction. It’s slick and stylish to look at but there’s weight to the pacing and movement that accompanies it. The actors power on at a pace, moving from scene to scene, but there are moments of real air there, and points they and the story gets to breathe and take in the moments of human reflection the script has-sometimes slightly hidden. It’s a play that could be done with a bare stage and a table (as indeed the 2016 Broadway production did) but theatre is a visual medium as well and the stylish light-box staging and Contemporary-Dance influenced movement transitions help flesh out the world of snapshots Stephens has written. In the transitions- slick and aesthetically pleasing as they are- we get hints of the moments of transition in between scenes as well. None of it exactly clear, which is how it should be, but all of it building a picture. The set itself- brilliantly realised by Bunny Christie- creates a backdrop that’s at once white and sterile and indeed scientific, but also filled with light and movement. Paul Constable’s lighting design compliments it perfectly creating a rich but abstract backdrop for the couple’s stories to be told against.

The stories themselves are told with expert precision by Ann-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham. The acting masterclass you might expect there’s a visible chemistry between them that allays any reservations about the unusual relationship the characters have. Duff is a powerhouse of chatter and energy, but also pulls it back to quiet reflection when needed. You feel the vulnerability beneath- whether it’s a moment her mask of chatter drops and a quieter exchange takes it’s place, or her physical interactions with Cranham, Duff understands the nuances between Georgie’s ‘Exhausting or exhilarating’ persona. Cranaham gives his gruff butcher Alex a sweetness alongside world-weariness and slight world-wariness. It’s a charming performance, really pulled together by the moments of reflection and sadness when he alludes to his loneliness often with an air of steadfast resignation. There is a neat balance as well as chemistry between the two performances that truly lift this play up.

Heisenberg is an interesting reflection on the nature of relationships, and the oddities of human life. Do you question their plausibility? judge their actions and words to each other? Yes. But so we do the ‘real’ couples we know and observe. And that was key in Heiseberg- it’s an observation of a relationship, a set of moments captured that are fascinating to watch. It’s not a play asking for a scientific conclusion, more one recording it’s set of observations for future reference. And human relationships-particularly of the romantic kind- never run short of things to study. And as the principle itself suggests, we can never see all things at once. The snapshots Stephens gives us, and the world Elliott creates lets us also imagine what goes on ‘between the notes’.

It’s a brave and bold first outing for Elliott Harper- a ‘small’ in scale play on a big stage in every sense. But bringing with it a solid play, in a safe pair of hands to perform it makes it a strong  first statement. Theatre doesn’t have to re-invent the wheel every time, and this production gives us good theatre- interesting stories, well performed with slick interesting direction. I wrote previously on my excitement at Elliott Harper’s arrival in the West End (here) and this production has firmly cemented that excitement.

Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle is at the Wyndams Theatre until January 6th 2018
https://elliottandharper.com/production/heisenberg/

The Busy World is Hushed- Finborough

The Busy World is Hushed- Finborough 
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It’s a rare play that gets both into your head and under your skin. Watching The Busy World is Hushed sends both a mind reeling trying to keep up with the ideas and questions posed by the characters, but also cuts to the heart with some frank, honest reflections on grief and love.
Keith Bunin’s play manages to weave ‘academic’ ideas of life and love with the reality in a way that’s both intellectually rigorous and emotionally engaging. He puts Hannah (Kazia Pelka) at the centre of this; an Episcopalian Minister in Manhattan and an academic she is professionally wrestling with issues of God and associated ideas of good, bad and love. While in the background to her professional life she has spent half a lifetime wrestling personally with reconciling the loss of her husband before her Son was born. It’s a rare complex part for a ‘Mother’ role in a play, and Pelka plays the nuances and conflicts of Hannah well. As the play picks up as her son Thomas reaches the age his father was when he died, and Mother and Son confront their own respective ways of dealing with the path in life that set them on.
There is a real sense of the lens of academic analysis in Bunin’s play, and it is the focus on her work and events around it that throws Hannah’s personal life into equal academic scrutiny. She hires young writer Brandt to Ghostwrite her thesis on the Gospels. A neat narrative nod to the writing of the Bible itself and the theories of ‘authorship’ Hannah may or may not be trying to prove. This metaphor is also played out in that Thomas is piecing together his Father’s life through stories and artefacts left behind. And neither she nor Thomas can arrive at any conclusion in their ‘academic’ or personal life respectively. The plays leaves the sense of faith in the intellectual and personal sense must often go unproven and unresolved.

The intrusion of Brandt (Mateo Oxley) into their world continues Bunin’s drawing out of the spiritual, academic and personal intertwining. Brought in despite being ‘not qualified’ for the job, he is to work at the heart of Hannah’s spiritual work, but also finds himself at the centre of her personal world working from her living room ‘library’. Oxley at first plays a charming and slightly lost ‘soul’ to Hannah but one with real steel to challenge her intellectually. Their debates on religion give Oxley and Pelka some great material to spar with and fuels the characterisation of ‘intellect’ and ‘heart’ that shapes the narrative and the characters.
The intimacy of the Finborough and the beautiful design that Marco Turcich has created work well for this. The audience feels like they are sharing Hannah’s flat with the characters, and there is a real urge during the interval to rummage through the piles of books to try and discover something like Thomas is in the play.

With Brandt in their world, Hannah and Thomas are challenged in different ways, and manage to challenge Brandt in return. A professional and personal challenge to Hannah’s ideas, forcing her to debate the issues she is including in her book. She sees his lack of Faith not so much as a religious but intellectual challenge. Bunin weaves these questions so well with the personal arc of the characters in his play makes for a series of intellectual questions about life and what lays beyond that feel incredibly natural in the world of the play, giving us things to think of beyond. Meanwhile his relationship with Thomas feels like a natural evolution, and a reflection of their respective emotional states- the lovely moment where Thomas ruffles Brandt’s hair in Act 1 seems to transition seamlessly into the nature of their new relationship in Act 2, and both actors play that transition, and one towards the conflict in their relationship in an easy, natural manner. 
The relationship might within the plot be contrived a little by Hannah, but both Oxley and Michael James (Thomas) have found the heart of the real affection between the two in the play. To find a play also in which a gay relationship is at the heart, but the play nor the conflict is about them being gay is a rare gift. Although there are allusions to earlier conflicts with coming out or promiscuity, the issue of them being Gay is neither debated or conflict in the play or their relationship. The conflict simply comes from being emotionally equipped for the relationship, and all the things that come between anyone in seeking love, rather than sexuality. It shouldn’t be underplayed how significant this is, and how heartening to see a Gay relationship treated both normal, and not the source of a character’s conflict or downfall. Oxley and James play the dynamic beautifully, and there is a great ease and chemistry between them that draws the audience into their relationship, rooting for them and hearts breaking for them when things unravel.
The heart of things is a good way to describe the way the play goes far beyond these intellectual questions to an emotional yet honest core. We see Thomas, the young man lost in life, trying to figure out an identity that he’s hanging off an absent father. Meanwhile Hannah struggles to reconcile herself as a Mother, a Minister and as a woman. There is a sense of her losing much of the latter, having thrown herself into her work and her son for so many years. Her talks with Brandt seem to bring out a personality she’s long kept partially hidden, but when he challenges her there seems to be a light returning. Meanwhile Brandt thrown into this world, while struggling with an unseen world of his own. Watching his Father die from a brain tumour, and bearing the responsibility of an only child, he is struggling with a moment of ‘growing up’ in his late 20s. His relationship with Thomas reflects an earlier decision that he wants to move past throwaway relationships to something real. Brandt reflects the often-over-looked struggle of just getting through your 20s.  Brandt is a character caught between many worlds- he’s a writer who is writing for someone else, he’s an adult but at that point where he’s not quite feeling ‘grown up’, he’s a child losing a Father while also forced to be a carer and a man who longs for commitment but feels life keeps preventing him from committing. And while the central story is about Hannah and her son on the surface it’s Brandt that raises the questions and gets to the heart of the piece.   
It’s a deftly handled three hander and all the actors do some extraordinary and heavy work. Kazia Pelka gives a strong grounded performance as Hannah. There’s a spark and strength to her performance, and she delivers lines with wit and sharpness that give us a real sense of a woman strong because she has to be. Her Hannah is intelligent in an intellectual and emotional way, but she also offers a vulnerability without weakness. It’s a performance that could be overlooked, as it is understated, but she brings a real strength that anchors the play on her performance.  Michael James gives a whirlwind performance as Thomas, capturing the frustrated energy of the character that is fuelled by a long-seated grief. He’s also funny and charming pulling the audience immediately on side. Thomas’ attitude or actions might read as unsympathetic in the hands of another but instead he remains affable, charming and ultimately a character your heart breaks for rather than resenting. Alongside the Mother/Son relationship Mateo Oxley is doing incredible, emotional but intelligent work in a role that in the hands of a lesser actor might become overblown or contrived. There’s a real sense of Oxley getting to the heart and head of Brandt- which is also the centre of what Bunin has written. Oxley gives us a character who retreats to his head to avoid his heart, but in fact in doing so his heart shines through. There’s a wonderful pacing that Oxley gives to the character- he gives us energy in debate, humour even in his sparring with both Thomas and Hannah. But bubbling under is a quiet grief that spills over only occasionally, and oh so subtly that it’s incredibly powerful. He’s an actor with such control, and a clear thought and intelligence behind the character that is both engaging and devastatingly moving to watch.
This is a play that raises complex issues, and doesn’t attempt to resolve them- and there lies its real strength. It’s dialogue heavy, but in a way, that feels authentic. And Director Paul Higgins handles this deftly, making sure none of the moments feel forced or artificial. We get a lot of talk around life, and beyond because that’s what the character’s need. But Higgins is careful to leave space in between, and pace all this so the audience can breathe.

The play ultimately is a reflection on death and grief and how the living incorporates that into their lives. In looking at three different experiences, and showing they are all current no matter how long ago- or how far in the future death and grief for it are, the play gives an airing to an often-avoided subject. Every audience member will likely find their own personal moment of alignment with the three character’s experiences, and that makes it a difficult watch at times. And while they play never gives us complete resolution there’s a catharsis in hearing those feelings shared, and value in the questions asked.  
As a final personal note as an academic currently struggling with the act of writing a book, I clearly identified with elements of that narrative. Not least the personal anguish, and investment that calls for, it proved for an unusual evening to see that played out. To see that done with an actor I was about to interview for said book was…an amusing added extra. Add to that a couple of shared jokes about Angels going on and…proof positive we all bring our own personal experiences to the theatre with us.

Until 25th November, Finborough Theatre

Tickets and information Here