‘More Life’

“More Life!”
The final words of Angels in America send the audience back out into the world. It’s both a blessing and an instruction. Go, live more life. And may you have More Life.
In part 2 of this two-part blog for Angels opening on Broadway it felt right to give a personal account of how Angels has given me both that blessing and instruction over the years. And, in particular, this production.  I can’t claim to have been there at the beginning, at 10 years old I was a bit young. And at 10 years old I wasn’t a person, or from a place where theatre was a part of my life. Angels is part of the reason it is.
The actors often say that in eight hours of being torn apart by this play they get less than five minutes redemption to put themselves back together. But often I think that for them, and the audiences, this play is designed to resonate beyond the walls of the theatre. That’s why Prior turns to us at the end. That’s why here the lights come up why the birds of Central Park sing. And that’s why once this play takes hold it’s so difficult to shake free.
‘And he stuffs them back, dirty tangled and torn. It’s up to you to do the stitching’
Whenever I think of this play, how it’s affected and changed me I think of the Mormon Mother and Harper. I don’t necessarily adhere to the part about ‘It has to do with God’ (I mean Kushner is a genius, but let’s not go that far). That idea of being pulled apart and put back together feels like my experience with the play, and this production. It sounds dramatic but this play really has been a driving force in my life for a good part of the last 10 years or more. I put this play at the heart of my professional life for a time, and it was one hell of a fight at times.  But along the way this play has changed me. I got pulled apart by life, and in its own way, last summer coming back to this play, this production, helped me stitch myself back together.
I know I bore a lot of people. Sometimes I bore myself. I wonder why I can’t just get a hobby like a normal person. Why I can’t just give up like a sane person. That’s the Louis streak in me- stubborn, determined and yes argumentative.  

‘Why this play?’ I get asked repeatedly. To which I partly want to answer, ‘why not this play?’ some people spend entire careers on two pages of Shakespearean text. Some pick narrow slices of history. Some divide cells for a living. Why not, if we’re talking professionally, this iconic play of American history. Personally, we all connect to things for a multitude of reasons, some within the work, some of our own making. Angels has been a part of my life for 12 years now. In some ways I can’t separate my personal history with it, from the work itself. But I’ll try.
My story is a snowy night in Montreal, a 99 Cent DVD rental store and the words ‘It’s about AIDS it’s supposed to be good.’…it was all so romantic until then. That flatmate and I lost touch. Truth be told she never really liked me much. But that girl changed my life without even knowing it. Again, I wish I had a story of a lightening bolt moment. Of my life being changed in the moment I watched it. But I don’t.  I have this memory of clinging onto this series, wrapping myself in it like a comfort blanket. I was far from home, I was 19, I’d just lost a parent. It’s not hard to see why tales of love, loss and AIDS appealed somewhat. And even now watching the first episode of the HBO series has an almost Pavlovian calming effect on me. Like Prior’s life boat story, I guess I was clinging on in the freezing waters at that point. But even then, there were elements of that writing weaving into my brain, like vines taking hold. Little did I know how long, and with what force they would take hold.
From there I carried Angels with me. I often think there are pieces of culture that because of the moment you encounter them become a part of you- your soul, heart, whatever like nothing else. And from then on, that play was a part of me. Probably in ways I couldn’t fully articulate at that point. Yes, those notions of grief, loss, growing up that I wasn’t ready to deal with, but that the characters offered a way to transfer those feelings to. Now reaching the same age as Prior and Louis I feel like I’ve ‘grown into’ them, and all the things I didn’t have words for then. Across those years were elements I didn’t have words, or ability to fathom about sexuality, identity, whatever any of us want to call us. But there’s something in Kushner’s lost souls finding redemption that took hold, and that I held onto.
I saw my first production somewhere in there. Daniel Kramer’s 2007 production. In all honesty the first viewing left me with a sense of what I first thought was disappointment. Really it was something that years of loving a play couldn’t quite reach, until I wrapped my head around what I’d seen hours later. And spent a month or so immersing myself in that production. I saw it for the final time the night I left London to move home. Angels always, accidentally with me at the big moments. I wrote a dissertation on it. And packed it away in drawer to start a ‘normal life’. Somewhere in there it refused to let go. And I found myself proposing a PhD on the play.
I had supervisors who thought it wasn’t worth my time. It wasn’t PhD worthy. They made me question what I thought I knew. I see now it was their ignorance, not my stupidity. I also see now how necessary that play is- it’s history lesson, and its contemporary stance on a community that will not be silenced. And the play created the activist in me, gave me those lessons early on, even when others were dismissing it and me. I was criticised as a woman, from both sides, for working on this play. Gay men said it wasn’t mine to look at, to talk about. I wasn’t old enough, wasn’t male enough, wasn’t gay enough. Wasn’t positive enough. More than all that, my PhD taught me only that I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t enough, for whatever I wanted to do. And I was thrown out the other side with 100, 000 words on a subject I still loved dearly. But now had no use for and was forced to walk away from once again.

But why did I fight for it? Why did I still love it so much? Enough to dedicate a professional life to it? In it’s way it’s ineffable. Looking back, I think I was always ‘growing into’ the play. That’s the enduring beauty of it. There are a thousand reasons to love it, ever changing. Different from reading to reading, production to production. It’s ‘Theatre’s always at 8! Fucking tourists!’ it’s, it’s ‘Night Flight to San Francisco’, Alphabet land, The Mormon visitor’s centre, ‘the delicate ecology of your delusions’ it’s ‘Fuck you I’m a Prophet’ and the Bethesda Fountain.
None of that left me, ever. You don’t pour that much of yourself into the work and just let it go. But I had nowhere to put it. And with it all, I fell out of love with it a bit. And I walked away. And I was miserable. Partly because I couldn’t find anywhere that I fit. (I still can’t if anyone wants to you know, hire me) But because there was something unfinished. I always wanted to write the book. But I’d failed as an academic, and I felt l didn’t have the right to write it. Moreover, this play had become a part of something that had burned me, that had destroyed me so much, that it was difficult to even look at it. Never mind write about it.
And then last year, this production rebuilt that part of me. And like this production before, so much more. I’ve said this a thousand ways, but someone listening to you. Someone crediting you with the knowledge or the skill you worked hard for but that had been dismissed for years by so many. That is sometimes all it takes. And I will forever be grateful to Marianne Elliott for giving me that moment. And everything that became of it. From the outside it might look small, insignificant. But for me, it was seismic. It gave me something to build on again.
For the production itself it felt like at once having things I’d never seen articulated finally brought to life. Bits of the play that had been hidden in other productions taking centre stage. And at once a version of it I never imagined. For someone who can quote it backwards. Who knows the second an actor drops a line. Who knows every beat. For me to sit there mouth agape, to shed tears at lines I never considered sad before. To emerge shaking and a bit shell shocked. To do that at something I knew so well- to prove there was still more to uncover. That set my heart alight again.  



I appreciate how crazy it seems from the outside. I get it I do. But I can still say this play- the text itself- and ‘the play’ in the broader sense of what I’ve done with it,  changed me it shaped my life. And getting it ‘back’ with this production put something that had fallen apart back together. And it doesn’t matter that there are people who might not think this is the perfect production. I know there are people who judge me personally and professionally for loving it so much. That’s a different argument, this is about the personal connection. I needed the HBO version at 19 when I found it, and I needed this version 12 years later. What was on stage was important, but it was all the things that those special performances, and events in your life give you. And for me this was an event.
Being involved even a tiny bit has kicked my professional life back to life in a way I didn’t think was possible. At the very base level: I have a book contract and I have a play commission directly because of Angels. Those are two actual dreams come true. That alone is enough. But this production gave me so much- the sense that what I did, what I fought for mattered. And that I was worthwhile- because honestly that was something I’d lost. And to a degree I was ‘Lost to myself’ too.
If this blog is my Perestroika of the opening night blogs, then I also must ‘rip this open’ and be honest. It isn’t all sunshine and yellow brick roads. The end of Angels on stage last year marked the start of a dark time for me. I lost my job a week later and so now ‘He’s a fag he’s an office temp’ ever Louis…Despite all the good I can’t help but wonder if that was my one moment of ‘success’ has been and gone. And there have been days I’ve wanted to give up in more ways than one.  My mind, in it’s darkest moments hasn’t been kind, and I’ve said things and almost meant them. But I’ve been dragged back by both a grim determination to see my work on this play through again. And maybe as Prior says, that’s just the animal- to keep going. But I’ve kept going this far.  I think I’m currently in the ‘missing five years’ of my play. I’ve been through the hard crap. I’ve got to that pause point of redemption/catharsis, but I’ve still got a way to go before my ‘almost happily ever after’ (as I call it) Epilogue. Maybe I’m just about to get on that ‘Night Flight to San Francisco’ instead. 
But for now, as we’ve reached the ‘Epilogue’ of this blog, why does it matter so much to me that the play opens on Broadway? Plays open all the time right. This one took 26 years to ‘fly’ home to Broadway and the part 1 of this blog explains why that’s so important. But why is it so important to me?
Because as much as it was part of a professional path that nearly destroyed me, it’s also a personal and professional path that made me, and continues to make me who I am. From all the art and learning it’s introduced me to. To the opportunities and paths, its put me on. To the friends I would not have known without. And finally, the lessons in Kushner’s work. All these, over the last decade have made me. And as I continue to write about it they will continue to.
There will be a time when I step away from this again. Though it’s a work that will never leave me. There will be times it will fade into the background.  But that’s why it’s so important to me to wish ‘More Life’ to the cast, crew and creatives behind the Broadway production. Because right now you are pushing me onwards again, giving me ‘More Life’.

‘More Life’

“More Life!”
The final words of Angels in America send the audience back out into the world. It’s both a blessing and an instruction. Go, live more life. And may you have More Life.
In part 2 of this two-part blog for Angels opening on Broadway it felt right to give a personal account of how Angels has given me both that blessing and instruction over the years. And, in particular, this production.  I can’t claim to have been there at the beginning, at 10 years old I was a bit young. And at 10 years old I wasn’t a person, or from a place where theatre was a part of my life. Angels is part of the reason it is.
The actors often say that in eight hours of being torn apart by this play they get less than five minutes redemption to put themselves back together. But often I think that for them, and the audiences, this play is designed to resonate beyond the walls of the theatre. That’s why Prior turns to us at the end. That’s why here the lights come up why the birds of Central Park sing. And that’s why once this play takes hold it’s so difficult to shake free.
‘And he stuffs them back, dirty tangled and torn. It’s up to you to do the stitching’
Whenever I think of this play, how it’s affected and changed me I think of the Mormon Mother and Harper. I don’t necessarily adhere to the part about ‘It has to do with God’ (I mean Kushner is a genius, but let’s not go that far). That idea of being pulled apart and put back together feels like my experience with the play, and this production. It sounds dramatic but this play really has been a driving force in my life for a good part of the last 10 years or more. I put this play at the heart of my professional life for a time, and it was one hell of a fight at times.  But along the way this play has changed me. I got pulled apart by life, and in its own way, last summer coming back to this play, this production, helped me stitch myself back together.
I know I bore a lot of people. Sometimes I bore myself. I wonder why I can’t just get a hobby like a normal person. Why I can’t just give up like a sane person. That’s the Louis streak in me- stubborn, determined and yes argumentative.  

‘Why this play?’ I get asked repeatedly. To which I partly want to answer, ‘why not this play?’ some people spend entire careers on two pages of Shakespearean text. Some pick narrow slices of history. Some divide cells for a living. Why not, if we’re talking professionally, this iconic play of American history. Personally, we all connect to things for a multitude of reasons, some within the work, some of our own making. Angels has been a part of my life for 12 years now. In some ways I can’t separate my personal history with it, from the work itself. But I’ll try.
My story is a snowy night in Montreal, a 99 Cent DVD rental store and the words ‘It’s about AIDS it’s supposed to be good.’…it was all so romantic until then. That flatmate and I lost touch. Truth be told she never really liked me much. But that girl changed my life without even knowing it. Again, I wish I had a story of a lightening bolt moment. Of my life being changed in the moment I watched it. But I don’t.  I have this memory of clinging onto this series, wrapping myself in it like a comfort blanket. I was far from home, I was 19, I’d just lost a parent. It’s not hard to see why tales of love, loss and AIDS appealed somewhat. And even now watching the first episode of the HBO series has an almost Pavlovian calming effect on me. Like Prior’s life boat story, I guess I was clinging on in the freezing waters at that point. But even then, there were elements of that writing weaving into my brain, like vines taking hold. Little did I know how long, and with what force they would take hold.
From there I carried Angels with me. I often think there are pieces of culture that because of the moment you encounter them become a part of you- your soul, heart, whatever like nothing else. And from then on, that play was a part of me. Probably in ways I couldn’t fully articulate at that point. Yes, those notions of grief, loss, growing up that I wasn’t ready to deal with, but that the characters offered a way to transfer those feelings to. Now reaching the same age as Prior and Louis I feel like I’ve ‘grown into’ them, and all the things I didn’t have words for then. Across those years were elements I didn’t have words, or ability to fathom about sexuality, identity, whatever any of us want to call us. But there’s something in Kushner’s lost souls finding redemption that took hold, and that I held onto.
I saw my first production somewhere in there. Daniel Kramer’s 2007 production. In all honesty the first viewing left me with a sense of what I first thought was disappointment. Really it was something that years of loving a play couldn’t quite reach, until I wrapped my head around what I’d seen hours later. And spent a month or so immersing myself in that production. I saw it for the final time the night I left London to move home. Angels always, accidentally with me at the big moments. I wrote a dissertation on it. And packed it away in drawer to start a ‘normal life’. Somewhere in there it refused to let go. And I found myself proposing a PhD on the play.
I had supervisors who thought it wasn’t worth my time. It wasn’t PhD worthy. They made me question what I thought I knew. I see now it was their ignorance, not my stupidity. I also see now how necessary that play is- it’s history lesson, and its contemporary stance on a community that will not be silenced. And the play created the activist in me, gave me those lessons early on, even when others were dismissing it and me. I was criticised as a woman, from both sides, for working on this play. Gay men said it wasn’t mine to look at, to talk about. I wasn’t old enough, wasn’t male enough, wasn’t gay enough. Wasn’t positive enough. More than all that, my PhD taught me only that I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t enough, for whatever I wanted to do. And I was thrown out the other side with 100, 000 words on a subject I still loved dearly. But now had no use for and was forced to walk away from once again.

But why did I fight for it? Why did I still love it so much? Enough to dedicate a professional life to it? In it’s way it’s ineffable. Looking back, I think I was always ‘growing into’ the play. That’s the enduring beauty of it. There are a thousand reasons to love it, ever changing. Different from reading to reading, production to production. It’s ‘Theatre’s always at 8! Fucking tourists!’ it’s, it’s ‘Night Flight to San Francisco’, Alphabet land, The Mormon visitor’s centre, ‘the delicate ecology of your delusions’ it’s ‘Fuck you I’m a Prophet’ and the Bethesda Fountain.
None of that left me, ever. You don’t pour that much of yourself into the work and just let it go. But I had nowhere to put it. And with it all, I fell out of love with it a bit. And I walked away. And I was miserable. Partly because I couldn’t find anywhere that I fit. (I still can’t if anyone wants to you know, hire me) But because there was something unfinished. I always wanted to write the book. But I’d failed as an academic, and I felt l didn’t have the right to write it. Moreover, this play had become a part of something that had burned me, that had destroyed me so much, that it was difficult to even look at it. Never mind write about it.
And then last year, this production rebuilt that part of me. And like this production before, so much more. I’ve said this a thousand ways, but someone listening to you. Someone crediting you with the knowledge or the skill you worked hard for but that had been dismissed for years by so many. That is sometimes all it takes. And I will forever be grateful to Marianne Elliott for giving me that moment. And everything that became of it. From the outside it might look small, insignificant. But for me, it was seismic. It gave me something to build on again.
For the production itself it felt like at once having things I’d never seen articulated finally brought to life. Bits of the play that had been hidden in other productions taking centre stage. And at once a version of it I never imagined. For someone who can quote it backwards. Who knows the second an actor drops a line. Who knows every beat. For me to sit there mouth agape, to shed tears at lines I never considered sad before. To emerge shaking and a bit shell shocked. To do that at something I knew so well- to prove there was still more to uncover. That set my heart alight again.  



I appreciate how crazy it seems from the outside. I get it I do. But I can still say this play- the text itself- and ‘the play’ in the broader sense of what I’ve done with it,  changed me it shaped my life. And getting it ‘back’ with this production put something that had fallen apart back together. And it doesn’t matter that there are people who might not think this is the perfect production. I know there are people who judge me personally and professionally for loving it so much. That’s a different argument, this is about the personal connection. I needed the HBO version at 19 when I found it, and I needed this version 12 years later. What was on stage was important, but it was all the things that those special performances, and events in your life give you. And for me this was an event.
Being involved even a tiny bit has kicked my professional life back to life in a way I didn’t think was possible. At the very base level: I have a book contract and I have a play commission directly because of Angels. Those are two actual dreams come true. That alone is enough. But this production gave me so much- the sense that what I did, what I fought for mattered. And that I was worthwhile- because honestly that was something I’d lost. And to a degree I was ‘Lost to myself’ too.
If this blog is my Perestroika of the opening night blogs, then I also must ‘rip this open’ and be honest. It isn’t all sunshine and yellow brick roads. The end of Angels on stage last year marked the start of a dark time for me. I lost my job a week later and so now ‘He’s a fag he’s an office temp’ ever Louis…Despite all the good I can’t help but wonder if that was my one moment of ‘success’ has been and gone. And there have been days I’ve wanted to give up in more ways than one.  My mind, in it’s darkest moments hasn’t been kind, and I’ve said things and almost meant them. But I’ve been dragged back by both a grim determination to see my work on this play through again. And maybe as Prior says, that’s just the animal- to keep going. But I’ve kept going this far.  I think I’m currently in the ‘missing five years’ of my play. I’ve been through the hard crap. I’ve got to that pause point of redemption/catharsis, but I’ve still got a way to go before my ‘almost happily ever after’ (as I call it) Epilogue. Maybe I’m just about to get on that ‘Night Flight to San Francisco’ instead. 
But for now, as we’ve reached the ‘Epilogue’ of this blog, why does it matter so much to me that the play opens on Broadway? Plays open all the time right. This one took 26 years to ‘fly’ home to Broadway and the part 1 of this blog explains why that’s so important. But why is it so important to me?
Because as much as it was part of a professional path that nearly destroyed me, it’s also a personal and professional path that made me, and continues to make me who I am. From all the art and learning it’s introduced me to. To the opportunities and paths, its put me on. To the friends I would not have known without. And finally, the lessons in Kushner’s work. All these, over the last decade have made me. And as I continue to write about it they will continue to.
There will be a time when I step away from this again. Though it’s a work that will never leave me. There will be times it will fade into the background.  But that’s why it’s so important to me to wish ‘More Life’ to the cast, crew and creatives behind the Broadway production. Because right now you are pushing me onwards again, giving me ‘More Life’.

Hello And Good Morning (Angels opens on Broadway)

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“Hello and Good Morning”

When Susan Brown step out, obscured by Rabbi beard and hat, to utter those words and open Angels in America this Saturday, it is a milestone moment. 26 years, 4 months and 2 days (yes, exactly) after opening on Broadway the Angels have finally flown home, via London. There’s a sense that once again in this play’s history, London quietly created something quite special out of this iconic American play.

 

More on my research Blog

“Hello and Good Morning”



“Hello and Good Morning”


When Susan Brown step out, obscured by Rabbi beard and hat, to utter those words and open Angels in America this Saturday, it is a milestone moment. 26 years, 4 months and 2 days (yes, exactly) after opening on Broadway the Angels have finally flown home, via London. There’s a sense that once again in this play’s history, London quietly created something quite special out of this iconic American play.

It’s right that it’s Brown who opens the play. The formidable, often overlooked actress Broadway probably has never heard of but should have. Because despite the star line up above the title there’s a quiet, yes quite British confidence, about a production filled with non-Americans taking on this icon of British theatre. Much like the doubling in the play, the original London production was a ‘double’ of the Broadway (and Los Angeles) productions happening simultaneously.  And yet, through quirks of logistics, the National Theatre ended up shaping the history of this now canonised part of American theatrical history.

‘History is about to crack wide open’



As Ethel Rosenberg would have it (also played by Brown, also in an iconic hat) and these Angels have been flown back to Broadway for the first time. But as it’s taken 25 years, why, and how is this play still important? And what if anything makes this production worthy of its place in Angels history.

Perhaps it’s simply time for the lessons of Kushner’s play to be learned again, in times that are fraught and often terrifying;

‘I’ll show you America, Louis terminal, lazy and mean?’



Which could as easily have been spoken today, as 25 years ago. The politics, of course remain worryingly current – not least because of the legacy of one Roy Cohn continuing to stretch to the White House today. The fight against Right-Wing politics feels more current than in the first staging- when America was moving into the Clinton era with hope and optimism. Reviving this play on Broadway during the Obama years would have felt like a very different piece- historical, reflective. Now, again it is current, urgent almost a call to action.



While the politics endure, ever cyclical perhaps, it’s the Philosophy that endures beyond the practically political. The parallels between conservatism’s philosophy of non-intervention, the wider American philosophy of individualism, and the literal inaction of Reagan’s government seem clear. But more so these all-knowing but ultimately powerless creaturesdoomed to inaction and useless bureaucracy-the ‘angel of history’, a heavenly being who witnesses the disasters of the past and present but can do nothing about them. Abandoned by God and propelled ever forward by the ‘storm of progress’ but powerless, it feels like an incredibly modern lesson to learn. And the lessons in Kushner’s play feel strikingly current.

Where else in theatre does the grand philosophical, the political, the historical and the domestic drama sit so effortless side by side. Rarely does it make so much sense to meld a political rant taking in Reagan, Race and AIDS, alongside the jealousy and grief of a lost lover? Where else do select decisions of the Supreme Court as illustrations of political corruption form the basis of a fist fight and a breakup. But in Kushner’s writing, religion melds into politics and philosophy. Morality of Capitalism with Jewish Mythology. And for all that this should make no sense, it makes perfect sense.

‘More Life’


Is what Prior asking first for himself, and then offering as a blessing to the audience. It’s a theory, a philosophy and instruction that is universal. And it’s the heart of Kushner’s philosophy, and what makes this production such an optimistic, hopeful take on the play.

It’s a play for now, a play for all times. The setting may be historical now. A distance memory for some, another time altogether for others. But it’s themes are universal. And it’s characters more so. It’s a story of humanity, of love and loss. It’s also a story of growing and indeed growing up, no matter what your age in life. It’s about those moments that crash in, like and Angel through a ceiling, and shatter our lives. All the characters are broken by the things life throws at them, and all (almost all) are healed in one way or another.  When Prior pleads for ‘More Life’ talking about the ‘addiction of being alive’ it’s that element within all of us to keep going, even through the worst of it all. When Harper talks of ‘a kind of painful progress’ we each feel our own sense of that.

And it’s a thing to witness for an audience. How rare is it to sit with characters, in the theatre, for an entire day? To be absorbed by their lives completely, to live in that world. And then be cast out in it again. That’s the magic of what Kushner writes- sure there is magic in it, with Angels and ghosts- but it’s the people he creates that are so magical. Rarely does theatre give us such rounded characters, such full arcs of story. Where we know so much, but also so little that even after all that time there’s still more we wish we could know. But he knows how to give us just enough, to watch them, to feel with them and perhaps to learn from them.

‘The Magic of the theatre’



Indeed. This production is a gift. Even for those who know the play- make that think they know the play-it feels like new work. Not only for the continued relevance of the ideas, the philosophy behind it. But for the ‘more life’ Marianne Elliott and the team breathe into it. Not that it was ever stale to begin with. But to come back, 25 years later, it’s only worth doing with a bang.


And does it bang. With the rug ripped (quite literally in fact) from under the characters and the audience. Elliott at once explodes the world Kushner wrote, and strips it down to it’s core. There is a beautiful, almost musical, balance between the force of theatricality in the work, and a delicacy and precision of actor direction. A director who took a step back from the play, in order to fully immerse herself in it. She sees it as the whole- from the biggest set pieces to the tiniest detail- but every detail, and every performance is accounted for. This is a play that could be done with a black box and 4 chairs and still sing. The real skill is to give it all the theatrical tricks the writing could demand, and still expose the rawness and the magic of Kushner’s writing and hand that back to the actors. And that is what truly makes this a triumphant return to the play.



From Andrew Garfield’s raw, honest journey as Prior. From the quietly fearful, to shrieking hysteria and back again. He seems to pull himself through the 8 hours with Prior’s own force of will to succeed. Towards a moment of blurred lines between actor and character at the epilogue. Paralleled by Denise Gough’s gut wrenchingly heart-breaking Harper. Who unravels but is pieced back together in front of the audience. Gough delivers her with strength and a wry humour that shows her as vulnerable, but never weak. Alongside her the formidable strength of Susan Brown’s Hannah. Bringing depth to a character who is easy to overlook, but who pulls together both narrative and emotional strands of the story. Brown takes on this, and the mantle of Ethel Rosenberg- too easy to caricature, but as real as Hannah and treated with equal respect in Brown’s hands.  Nathan Stewart Jarrett makes Belize look effortless. When the comic relief he brings to scenes with Roy, is anything but and the role of a friend breaking his heart over a loved one is shown with sensitivity, and intelligence. Equally intelligent is James McArdle’s tour de force as Louis. Breaking down the character to the minutiae of the dialogue and building him back up again. There’s such heart to the character so easy to hate it’s a conflicting but fascinating performance. While Nathan Lane takes the fictionalised Roy Cohn and finds his comedic heart, and the human element inside the politics of the monster. And amid all the Angel, crashes through given real agency, and personality amid the debris she finds herself in.  

What after all is the point of re-staging Angels in America25 years later if you don’t re-imagine what the Angel might be? What was the point of a triumphant return to the National Theatre, graduating from the black box studio of the Cottesloe to the vacuous and notoriously difficult Lyttleton if you aren’t going to use that? And why fly those Angels back to Broadway if it isn’t with a bang (or crash, in the case of the Angel). The point is this play doesn’t need all that. This play can be done on the strength of 8 brilliant actors alone, it should be. But to craft all that- to direct 8 incredibly challenging performers, in a complex play, and to manage such masterful strokes of design, stagecraft and theatricality. That’s why you do a big revival of this play. And that’s why the National Theatre and Broadway revival will go down in both the history of Angelsbut the history of Broadway and the National Theatre as something quite special.



And it’s important that it’s this director, this cast now. It’s important that a woman is steering this production. Not least the not-so-simple act of having women directing flagship productions. For women in the industry to see a woman at the helm of this iconic play, on these iconic stages. Maybe for men that doesn’t seem such a big deal, but for women that’s galvanizing. And indeed, women like Elliott who help other women up the ladder through their platform, and practical means. We should keep mentioning these women at the top, until we get to a point we don’t have to.

That aside, a woman directing this play is important. A woman who remembers the era it’s set in but didn’t ‘live’ the world of the play it in the same way previous directors have, brings something different to the play. Another perspective, less personal, and with it more honest to the characters. Kushner also wrote great women. It’s as much Harper’s story as it is Prior’s. This production shows that. It shows Hannah, Ethel and all they go through in a way that has been overlooked in other productions. Those women’s voices in the play feel really ‘heard’ for the first time here.



And Elliott, irrespective of gender has brought this play back with such passion and dedication. Over two years working directly on it, at least three working towards it. This author personally understands that dedication to the madness that is Angels, but professionally that’s a lot to ask of anyone. But the passion shines through, the love of the piece, the sense of its importance.  And that also emanates from this cast. Angels is an ensemble piece, and it should be impossible to truly isolate any one part. Through those thousands of lines of dialogue, the dense prose and poetry of Kushner’s writing. Through the epic scale of the production and steering this diverse talented group of people, something urgent, relevant and beautiful has burst through.



Despite thousands of words of writing, despite the eloquence of Kushner’s writing it comes down to a feeling. An entirely overwhelming moment that occurs at the end of this play. After almost 8 hours in the theatre, something that has been creeping in, takes over. Part hope, part elation part some ineffable philosophical, political, emotional, spiritual alchemy of all that has gone before. Or perhaps it’s just called hope. ‘There is an ethical obligation to hope’ Kushner once said. And that’s what this play brings back. That is why is matters now. That is why this production matters. It captures that hope.

‘More Life’



The play instructs. Late, on Sunday night Andrew Garfield will say those words and Angels will officially be back on Broadway for the first time in 26 years, 4 months and 2 days.
It was worth the wait.

“Hello and Good Morning”



“Hello and Good Morning”


When Susan Brown step out, obscured by Rabbi beard and hat, to utter those words and open Angels in America this Saturday, it is a milestone moment. 26 years, 4 months and 2 days (yes, exactly) after opening on Broadway the Angels have finally flown home, via London. There’s a sense that once again in this play’s history, London quietly created something quite special out of this iconic American play.

It’s right that it’s Brown who opens the play. The formidable, often overlooked actress Broadway probably has never heard of but should have. Because despite the star line up above the title there’s a quiet, yes quite British confidence, about a production filled with non-Americans taking on this icon of British theatre. Much like the doubling in the play, the original London production was a ‘double’ of the Broadway (and Los Angeles) productions happening simultaneously.  And yet, through quirks of logistics, the National Theatre ended up shaping the history of this now canonised part of American theatrical history.

‘History is about to crack wide open’



As Ethel Rosenberg would have it (also played by Brown, also in an iconic hat) and these Angels have been flown back to Broadway for the first time. But as it’s taken 25 years, why, and how is this play still important? And what if anything makes this production worthy of its place in Angels history.

Perhaps it’s simply time for the lessons of Kushner’s play to be learned again, in times that are fraught and often terrifying;

‘I’ll show you America, Louis terminal, lazy and mean?’



Which could as easily have been spoken today, as 25 years ago. The politics, of course remain worryingly current – not least because of the legacy of one Roy Cohn continuing to stretch to the White House today. The fight against Right-Wing politics feels more current than in the first staging- when America was moving into the Clinton era with hope and optimism. Reviving this play on Broadway during the Obama years would have felt like a very different piece- historical, reflective. Now, again it is current, urgent almost a call to action.



While the politics endure, ever cyclical perhaps, it’s the Philosophy that endures beyond the practically political. The parallels between conservatism’s philosophy of non-intervention, the wider American philosophy of individualism, and the literal inaction of Reagan’s government seem clear. But more so these all-knowing but ultimately powerless creaturesdoomed to inaction and useless bureaucracy-the ‘angel of history’, a heavenly being who witnesses the disasters of the past and present but can do nothing about them. Abandoned by God and propelled ever forward by the ‘storm of progress’ but powerless, it feels like an incredibly modern lesson to learn. And the lessons in Kushner’s play feel strikingly current.

Where else in theatre does the grand philosophical, the political, the historical and the domestic drama sit so effortless side by side. Rarely does it make so much sense to meld a political rant taking in Reagan, Race and AIDS, alongside the jealousy and grief of a lost lover? Where else do select decisions of the Supreme Court as illustrations of political corruption form the basis of a fist fight and a breakup. But in Kushner’s writing, religion melds into politics and philosophy. Morality of Capitalism with Jewish Mythology. And for all that this should make no sense, it makes perfect sense.

‘More Life’


Is what Prior asking first for himself, and then offering as a blessing to the audience. It’s a theory, a philosophy and instruction that is universal. And it’s the heart of Kushner’s philosophy, and what makes this production such an optimistic, hopeful take on the play.

It’s a play for now, a play for all times. The setting may be historical now. A distance memory for some, another time altogether for others. But it’s themes are universal. And it’s characters more so. It’s a story of humanity, of love and loss. It’s also a story of growing and indeed growing up, no matter what your age in life. It’s about those moments that crash in, like and Angel through a ceiling, and shatter our lives. All the characters are broken by the things life throws at them, and all (almost all) are healed in one way or another.  When Prior pleads for ‘More Life’ talking about the ‘addiction of being alive’ it’s that element within all of us to keep going, even through the worst of it all. When Harper talks of ‘a kind of painful progress’ we each feel our own sense of that.

And it’s a thing to witness for an audience. How rare is it to sit with characters, in the theatre, for an entire day? To be absorbed by their lives completely, to live in that world. And then be cast out in it again. That’s the magic of what Kushner writes- sure there is magic in it, with Angels and ghosts- but it’s the people he creates that are so magical. Rarely does theatre give us such rounded characters, such full arcs of story. Where we know so much, but also so little that even after all that time there’s still more we wish we could know. But he knows how to give us just enough, to watch them, to feel with them and perhaps to learn from them.

‘The Magic of the theatre’



Indeed. This production is a gift. Even for those who know the play- make that think they know the play-it feels like new work. Not only for the continued relevance of the ideas, the philosophy behind it. But for the ‘more life’ Marianne Elliott and the team breathe into it. Not that it was ever stale to begin with. But to come back, 25 years later, it’s only worth doing with a bang.


And does it bang. With the rug ripped (quite literally in fact) from under the characters and the audience. Elliott at once explodes the world Kushner wrote, and strips it down to it’s core. There is a beautiful, almost musical, balance between the force of theatricality in the work, and a delicacy and precision of actor direction. A director who took a step back from the play, in order to fully immerse herself in it. She sees it as the whole- from the biggest set pieces to the tiniest detail- but every detail, and every performance is accounted for. This is a play that could be done with a black box and 4 chairs and still sing. The real skill is to give it all the theatrical tricks the writing could demand, and still expose the rawness and the magic of Kushner’s writing and hand that back to the actors. And that is what truly makes this a triumphant return to the play.



From Andrew Garfield’s raw, honest journey as Prior. From the quietly fearful, to shrieking hysteria and back again. He seems to pull himself through the 8 hours with Prior’s own force of will to succeed. Towards a moment of blurred lines between actor and character at the epilogue. Paralleled by Denise Gough’s gut wrenchingly heart-breaking Harper. Who unravels but is pieced back together in front of the audience. Gough delivers her with strength and a wry humour that shows her as vulnerable, but never weak. Alongside her the formidable strength of Susan Brown’s Hannah. Bringing depth to a character who is easy to overlook, but who pulls together both narrative and emotional strands of the story. Brown takes on this, and the mantle of Ethel Rosenberg- too easy to caricature, but as real as Hannah and treated with equal respect in Brown’s hands.  Nathan Stewart Jarrett makes Belize look effortless. When the comic relief he brings to scenes with Roy, is anything but and the role of a friend breaking his heart over a loved one is shown with sensitivity, and intelligence. Equally intelligent is James McArdle’s tour de force as Louis. Breaking down the character to the minutiae of the dialogue and building him back up again. There’s such heart to the character so easy to hate it’s a conflicting but fascinating performance. While Nathan Lane takes the fictionalised Roy Cohn and finds his comedic heart, and the human element inside the politics of the monster. And amid all the Angel, crashes through given real agency, and personality amid the debris she finds herself in.  

What after all is the point of re-staging Angels in America25 years later if you don’t re-imagine what the Angel might be? What was the point of a triumphant return to the National Theatre, graduating from the black box studio of the Cottesloe to the vacuous and notoriously difficult Lyttleton if you aren’t going to use that? And why fly those Angels back to Broadway if it isn’t with a bang (or crash, in the case of the Angel). The point is this play doesn’t need all that. This play can be done on the strength of 8 brilliant actors alone, it should be. But to craft all that- to direct 8 incredibly challenging performers, in a complex play, and to manage such masterful strokes of design, stagecraft and theatricality. That’s why you do a big revival of this play. And that’s why the National Theatre and Broadway revival will go down in both the history of Angelsbut the history of Broadway and the National Theatre as something quite special.



And it’s important that it’s this director, this cast now. It’s important that a woman is steering this production. Not least the not-so-simple act of having women directing flagship productions. For women in the industry to see a woman at the helm of this iconic play, on these iconic stages. Maybe for men that doesn’t seem such a big deal, but for women that’s galvanizing. And indeed, women like Elliott who help other women up the ladder through their platform, and practical means. We should keep mentioning these women at the top, until we get to a point we don’t have to.

That aside, a woman directing this play is important. A woman who remembers the era it’s set in but didn’t ‘live’ the world of the play it in the same way previous directors have, brings something different to the play. Another perspective, less personal, and with it more honest to the characters. Kushner also wrote great women. It’s as much Harper’s story as it is Prior’s. This production shows that. It shows Hannah, Ethel and all they go through in a way that has been overlooked in other productions. Those women’s voices in the play feel really ‘heard’ for the first time here.



And Elliott, irrespective of gender has brought this play back with such passion and dedication. Over two years working directly on it, at least three working towards it. This author personally understands that dedication to the madness that is Angels, but professionally that’s a lot to ask of anyone. But the passion shines through, the love of the piece, the sense of its importance.  And that also emanates from this cast. Angels is an ensemble piece, and it should be impossible to truly isolate any one part. Through those thousands of lines of dialogue, the dense prose and poetry of Kushner’s writing. Through the epic scale of the production and steering this diverse talented group of people, something urgent, relevant and beautiful has burst through.



Despite thousands of words of writing, despite the eloquence of Kushner’s writing it comes down to a feeling. An entirely overwhelming moment that occurs at the end of this play. After almost 8 hours in the theatre, something that has been creeping in, takes over. Part hope, part elation part some ineffable philosophical, political, emotional, spiritual alchemy of all that has gone before. Or perhaps it’s just called hope. ‘There is an ethical obligation to hope’ Kushner once said. And that’s what this play brings back. That is why is matters now. That is why this production matters. It captures that hope.

‘More Life’



The play instructs. Late, on Sunday night Andrew Garfield will say those words and Angels will officially be back on Broadway for the first time in 26 years, 4 months and 2 days.
It was worth the wait.

Project book update: March

Project book update…what month are we now? Let’s just say March.

So project book. The honest answer dear project book (and pray that my editor isn’t reading this) is that you have been sidelined a bit. I joked on Twitter that a muffled scream didn’t quite make for a good blog post so I’d better try and articulate this.

The reality is that life gets in the way. When you aren’t a ‘proper’ academic, and even when you are. I’ve been settling into a new part time temp job, which hopefully is giving me chance to really get into a writing routine with this and…the other reason I’ve been a bit behind: several other projects on the go. And there is a tenuous link there. Firstly I have a play being produced, by the wonderful team at ClockTower Theatre  my play ‘Don’t Send Flowers’ is part of their Fifth season and is being produced later this year. But that means re-writes. Meanwhile, I’ve also been commissioned to write another play. My semi-secret project until recently actually has an ‘Angels’ link in more ways than one. Firstly it’s a contemporary play about HIV, something that even while doing my PhD I wanted to write. (And my supervisor scoffed at, so there’s another ‘screw you’ there) For me after years reading and writing about the plays of the AIDS crisis I always wanted to ‘write back’ to it. And I’m getting a chance to do that. The producer I’m working with actually produced one of my short plays for a night at the Southwark Playhouse. But it was in reading the programme for Angels last year that he realised my ‘other life’ might well be useful for an idea he’d had. The rest is history (and more anguished cries). But it really is still remarkable to me that from that programme essay I got to write a play. And a book. And who knows what else. It might seem a small thing in principle, but for me the repercussions have been huge.  And I’m so grateful.

Of course, writing one play, re-writing another, keeping up with theatre reviewing work, working for a living AND writing a book makes life a bit busy. And as this blog shows I had a major personal/professional dip at the beginning of the year. Which to be honest it’s taken me a while to recover from. Writing this book, this play (s) are all incredibly personal, and emotionally intensive for me too, as all of them are very close to my heart. So sometimes all that, and precarious employment/job hunting gets on top of me. The guilt of choosing to focus on my writing rather than pursue ‘proper’ jobs’ has been overwhelming at times. The sense of ‘failure’ or not being ‘good enough’ is so strong-even having got this far. And the fear it will all go horribly wrong also remains. But I think I may have turned a corner slightly, which I talk about more in this blog 

And so what of the book? Well the honest answer is indeed a muffled scream of anguish. In part, to be fair to myself, I’ve been waiting on this week and the Broadway opening. Collating articles and reviews is a big part of the process, and honestly I’ve been distracted by that and if I’m more honest a kind of nervous anticipation. It might not be me on stage/backstage, but I feel a real sense of investment in it and willing it to go well. And trying to write about it while it’s all still ahead is hard.

What I’m also currently working on is structure- it’s become apparent to me that I have an overwhelming amount to say about the 2017/18 production. And a fair few arguments as to it’s importance in the ‘canon’ of Angels productions. In fact as someone said to me this week- I could write a book on this one alone. And so I’m working out how to fit all this, which I feel is so important, to talk about and really capture, into something that works as a book. Alongside it is my other instinct that the shared history with the National Theatre is my ‘angle’ and really is the book perhaps “only I” can write. So my next step is to wait on Broadway opening, collect all those reviews. And then go back to the start- back to the archives for the original NT production. And re-immerse myself in both. And see what comes out the other end.

So where are we project book? overwhelmed at times. Excited at others. Also slowly sort of convinced that this might be more than one book….

So basically, still this then:

Project book update: March

Project book update…what month are we now? Let’s just say March.

So project book. The honest answer dear project book (and pray that my editor isn’t reading this) is that you have been sidelined a bit. I joked on Twitter that a muffled scream didn’t quite make for a good blog post so I’d better try and articulate this.

The reality is that life gets in the way. When you aren’t a ‘proper’ academic, and even when you are. I’ve been settling into a new part time temp job, which hopefully is giving me chance to really get into a writing routine with this and…the other reason I’ve been a bit behind: several other projects on the go. And there is a tenuous link there. Firstly I have a play being produced, by the wonderful team at ClockTower Theatre  my play ‘Don’t Send Flowers’ is part of their Fifth season and is being produced later this year. But that means re-writes. Meanwhile, I’ve also been commissioned to write another play. My semi-secret project until recently actually has an ‘Angels’ link in more ways than one. Firstly it’s a contemporary play about HIV, something that even while doing my PhD I wanted to write. (And my supervisor scoffed at, so there’s another ‘screw you’ there) For me after years reading and writing about the plays of the AIDS crisis I always wanted to ‘write back’ to it. And I’m getting a chance to do that. The producer I’m working with actually produced one of my short plays for a night at the Southwark Playhouse. But it was in reading the programme for Angels last year that he realised my ‘other life’ might well be useful for an idea he’d had. The rest is history (and more anguished cries). But it really is still remarkable to me that from that programme essay I got to write a play. And a book. And who knows what else. It might seem a small thing in principle, but for me the repercussions have been huge.  And I’m so grateful.

Of course, writing one play, re-writing another, keeping up with theatre reviewing work, working for a living AND writing a book makes life a bit busy. And as this blog shows I had a major personal/professional dip at the beginning of the year. Which to be honest it’s taken me a while to recover from. Writing this book, this play (s) are all incredibly personal, and emotionally intensive for me too, as all of them are very close to my heart. So sometimes all that, and precarious employment/job hunting gets on top of me. The guilt of choosing to focus on my writing rather than pursue ‘proper’ jobs’ has been overwhelming at times. The sense of ‘failure’ or not being ‘good enough’ is so strong-even having got this far. And the fear it will all go horribly wrong also remains. But I think I may have turned a corner slightly, which I talk about more in this blog 

And so what of the book? Well the honest answer is indeed a muffled scream of anguish. In part, to be fair to myself, I’ve been waiting on this week and the Broadway opening. Collating articles and reviews is a big part of the process, and honestly I’ve been distracted by that and if I’m more honest a kind of nervous anticipation. It might not be me on stage/backstage, but I feel a real sense of investment in it and willing it to go well. And trying to write about it while it’s all still ahead is hard.

What I’m also currently working on is structure- it’s become apparent to me that I have an overwhelming amount to say about the 2017/18 production. And a fair few arguments as to it’s importance in the ‘canon’ of Angels productions. In fact as someone said to me this week- I could write a book on this one alone. And so I’m working out how to fit all this, which I feel is so important, to talk about and really capture, into something that works as a book. Alongside it is my other instinct that the shared history with the National Theatre is my ‘angle’ and really is the book perhaps “only I” can write. So my next step is to wait on Broadway opening, collect all those reviews. And then go back to the start- back to the archives for the original NT production. And re-immerse myself in both. And see what comes out the other end.

So where are we project book? overwhelmed at times. Excited at others. Also slowly sort of convinced that this might be more than one book….

So basically, still this then: