A Recipe For Sloe Gin- Clocktower Theatre Company (World of Boats)

Allan Neve’s play is an exploration of a father-daughter life over the decades. Starting when daughter Lucy (Georgia Theodoulou) comes home to look after her father Charlie (Keiron Self), a series of intertwined monologues tell their story of past and present. What begins with Lucy’s struggling with a return home, and the weight of responsibility of caring for a parent, unravels into a story of family, loss and the complexities of human nature. 
The story unfolds in a series of monologues, from Lucy and her father, narrating the situation now, and as the play goes on, from their family history. As Lucy details her feelings, actions now in light of the past, her Dad, we assume in the grips of his illness, is reliving the past instead. These parallel lines of story that only occasionally cross, allows Neve to weave the picture of their life together. When Lucy then reflects on their life past and present at the close, it’s a fitting sense of closure to the versions of their history they’ve been telling.


Both performers demonstrate a real depth of understanding to their characters. Theodoulou runs a spectrum of the young woman frustrated by life, and making mistakes while figuring it out, to one deeply affected by her childhood. She has a great humour in her delivery, proving that even the most emotive of subjects can be delivered with a wry and honest humour. Self also has a wit to his gruff character. And while he could be in both parts a character to pity and later be angry at, in fact he pulls you on side from the start. His illness, his struggles become those which could- and do- happen to anyone. And in his final monologue the love for his daughter is raw and honest. While Theodoulu delivers the sadness of the ending with an honesty and clarity that doesn’t give in to easy expectations of performing grief. Both actors, in a tough two hander, keep their characters intelligent and engaged throughout- and in so doing pull the audience to a similar state of mind. Treating the writing with that respect, that intellectual engagement makes the emotional payoff all the more resonant. 


The monologues are a powerful tool and give both insight into the lives and minds of the characters, without giving too much away. Neve is skilled at delivering just enough information at the right moment but leaving enough up to the audience to interpret. What the monologues do leave us wanting somewhat is the connection between the characters. There are fleeting moments pulled through in Matt Holmquist’s direction- the moment Lucy takes the fishing rope from her father’s hands is simple yet heart wrenching- but the play felt like it needed a little something more between them.
Holmquist directs the play with skill- we do feel that connection even when they never speak directly to each other (aside from one final heart-breaking moment). And he has an eye for the visual as well as the emotional. Even with only two actors on stage, he creates visuals that interpret the text as much through the silent character as the one delivering the next instalment of the story. And the final image of the play speaks as strongly as any of the words.
The setting elevates this play to another level. Performed in ‘World of Boats’ a museum to, well boats, that jets out into the Bay. April Dalton has, with simple rustic set design created an evocative space for the play. Surrounding the audience with boats, the rustic nautical look of the building- and a walkway into the performance space filled with boats, sets the tone. It might be Cardiff outside, but it doesn’t take much imagination to feel like you are indeed sitting in that Cornish fishing village. The backdrop to the performance is a panoramic view of the Bay, complete with boats sailing by at regular intervals. As the sun sets and darkness descends, keeping pace it seems with the darkening of the story. It also means the mood of the piece is influenced by the changing weather each night- on a dark and gloomy night, the backdrop would set the piece off on an entirely different note. The brilliant sunshine we began with fuelled an almost deeper melancholy as the story unravelled. 



A Recipe for Sloe Gin is a beautifully written piece of drama. One that draws out the complexities of family relationships of both growing up and aging in the same story. There are questions about home, about a sense of place and all the questions that go with that, alongside a raw anecdote of loss and grief. Directed with sensitivity but also vision, Clocktower as a company lay their ambition out with this piece- both in their choice of new writing and their execution.

Until 18th August, World of Boats Cardiff

Tickets 

Draft 2 (and repairing some damage)

That’s damage to myself not to the play.

I sent draft one of a play off to my Producer/Collaborator last night. And as I blogged for Draft 1 it seemed to make sense to do the same for draft 2.

In some ways it’s a very similar feeling. Blind panic and sweating the minute I hit send and 1000 more amendments I want to make but damnit didn’t have time.

All that is normal. What I really want to blog about is that between the first and second draft what I’ve come to realise about my writing process. But more accurately what academia did to that and how I’ve changed through this process.

Before I continue, I’d like to acknowledge that there is good and bad in both academia and the arts. I’ve had my share of Directors making me cry because they just slated my work without constructive thought, or were just plain nasty people. In the same way I’ve known many wonderful supportive academics. This is just one story. But how my academic experience affected me I’ve come to discover has coloured how I work and how I write. And in a way the last few months working in a different kind of collaborative, but critical relationship has really started to heal the scars academia left.

To quote my favourite film (don’t @ me as the kids say)

“Sometimes the bad stuff is easier to believe”

And after believing the bad stuff for too long, slowly in this process I’ve started to learn I’m not as terrible as I think. And even more slowly finding my voice not only in the writing, but in fighting for my writing that I’d lost.

Why did this seem like such a revelation? Because every time I’d pushed back during the PhD, every time there was a moment of ‘this isn’t quite what I asked for’ it turned into a Drama. With a capital drama. More so than anything I’m trying to put on the stage. And then there was also the way supervisors approached the feedback generally. And that’s how I came to the feedback on this play; expecting the worst about my work, and expecting also it to result in tears and the end of something I loved very much. Because that’s what academia had left me with. Destruction of my confidence in my work. And my love of it.

As a result, that week after handing in the first draft was fraught. I think we’d both admit that. But we came out the other side having not fallen out, with a better understanding of how to work together. And with the work improved. And I wondered, why had that been so scary? Why had it been so hard for so long?

I could talk for days on this. Instead inspired by an element of the play I’ve just sent off two letters, one to each side of this story….

Dear Former PhD Supervisors and Examiners (except you two, you know which)

You were supposed to be a mentor, not an enemy. You weren’t supposed to use my words, and yes, my failings as weapons.

When I broke down crying from stress and exhaustion you didn’t support me. You reported me. You said I wasn’t strong enough to take what you threw out and instead of helping me, you tried to get rid of me.

When I confessed the gaps in my knowledge, you didn’t support me to fix them, you looked for those gaps in my work. When you recommended books to read you then accused me of lying about reading them.

I wasn’t lazy, I wasn’t lying about proof reading. I wasn’t submitting you some half-arsed piece of work. I was dyslexic. Which you knew.

You destroyed my faith in the one thing I thought I could do. And in doing that I felt worthless. It wasn’t just that you took my belief in the one thing I thought I had talent for away. It’s that you turned it into a series of insults. And when I asked for help, you turned that into an attack.

You knew how dearly I loved my subject matter. And you repeatedly tore it down. The medium. The content. I make that joke about War Horse frequently. But what you were doing with that was letting me know who was intellectually superior. You knew I loved the PhD plays, and you made it clear they like me weren’t worthy of a PhD. You knew it as well was a matter of personal pride, and accomplishment. As it is for all of us.

You made it personal. You made it about sexuality, about HIV status (a question you should never have asked FYI). But mostly you made it about me. About how I wasn’t worth anything. When in fact you should have been helping me learn the techniques, learn to be an academic.

You made me think every difference of opinion was a battle. And every conflict was the potential end of something. More importantly you made me think every time we disagreed it was because I was too stupid, and not talented enough.

Maybe I was never good enough to be an academic. We can’t all be. But you didn’t have to destroy me to teach me that.

Dear Producer/Collaborator/Friend?

I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I apologise too much. But feeling like I’ve done wrong has become so engrained I’m not sure how else to start a conversation about my work other than ‘I’m sorry for it’. Or a conversation about how I’m not working hard enough, that being ill got in the way. That I’m just too tired from juggling my job and my other projects and trying to have a life. I’m sorry that I’m not working every waking hour on this thing.

Because that’s how I’ve been trained to think. That every step away from perfection is an utter failing. That if I’m not producing the best of the best that’s a failing. If I’m not aware of every other piece of work ever created with a link to mine, every theory related to it and every book written on it, I’m a failing. And thank you for (Slowly) teaching me that isn’t true.

I’m sorry that my mind is chaotic and messy. That I over write (I am truly sorry for the 350 page first draft).

I’m sorry that my dyslexic brain makes it hard to follow.. That I lose entire scenes because I get word-blind. And that I forget things. That I’m not precise in my timelines or my details. I don’t mean to be. It’s just…chaotic and blind in my head sometimes.

I’m sorry that my mind, my mouth and my writing goes 19 to the dozen and you struggle to keep up. Know that I struggle to keep up. Know that it’s messy and chaotic to me and it doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense.

I’m sorry that I struggled to trust you. And in doing that I wasn’t honest. And here’s the honest truth: academia both built up and armour and wore me so thin that my defences are now always up but worn so thin all at once. I told you it was chaotic in my mind.

I know I over think it. And that drives you crazy. Academia is over thinking, and still being told you didn’t think enough. Know that in general actually. After being forced to expose my work to constant criticism, week after week. Often cruel. I had given up by default just to not go through that again.

And I’m thankful I did. And to you.

And thank you for giving me criticism I can understand. That is in plain English. That is logical. That I might not always agree with (I still say the eyeballs scene was great) but that I can appreciate, and that I can see the benefits of. Because I spent four years being told everything I did was awful, and sometimes that’s still all I can hear. And for making me a better writer. By pushing me without breaking me.

And thank you for letting me love it. And for letting me put myself into it.

I was taught by academia that the part of me that loved what I do, and the part of me that allowed emotional attachment in was wrong. I’m a cold hearted bitch at times anyway (with a dark dark sense of humour to match). But I write from the heart, I write from me. I just don’t like anyone to know that. So know that when I let you know which bits do come from me, that’s a trust like nobody else gets.

Thank you for telling me I’m doing something right. Even when you say ‘I don’t say it enough’ know that you’re saying it far more than anyone did then and it means the world.

I’m not promising what I’ve done is brilliant. I’m not promising what I did will be a success. I hope it will be. I plan to do everything I can to make it one. But doing this made all the difference to me.

So I’m sorry for all of that. And this sappy note. But thank you for giving me my voice back.

Three Years Since Graduation

As this was once upon a time my PhD blog, I thought I’d reflect on it being three years since Graduation.

If I’m honest it’s mixed emotions I feel looking at Graduation pictures. On one hand I’m still incredibly proud I made it to the end. Let’s face it for a long time it didn’t look likely. And people like me don’t get PhDs. Just getting to Silly Hat Day was an achievement.

And it’s been a mixed bag since. A summary for anyone who doesn’t know me reading this:

For a while I tried to hang on in academia. Doing an alt-ac role, it was well paid (the most I’ve ever been paid in my life in fact). And in another life I’d still be working in Alt-Ac jobs- after all it was what I was doing pre-PhD. But it was fixed term, and I was also miserable in that particular job. So I moved to a ‘lower level’ job in Arts Development. Also fixed term. One that ended quite bitterly for me, having been told my job no longer existed, only to see it advertised shortly after. It did exist, just not for me it seemed.

That was last September, and since I’vein the Worst Admin Job Ever d) Temping as a medical receptionist in a Private Hospital.

been a) unemployed b) in Christmas Retail. c)

None of this is what I envisioned doing when I thought of my post-Graduation life.

And honestly, looking at it that way, I feel like a huge failure. I came out of the PhD knowing I was never good enough to be an academic. And this broke my heart, because teaching at a University was the happiest I have ever been in a job. And I’d put my heart and soul into my research. And when you spend 4 years (sorry Twitter snobs, a lot of us spend 4 years) ‘training’ for something, and then can’t do it…it does break your heart a little. You have to readjust.

I tried to hold on in academia. I went to a few conferences. I swore off them when I spent most of a wet miserable weekend in Belfast crying. And having the work my research was on torn to shreds by the keynote before I could give my paper. That’ll do wonders for your academic confidence. Then I was on a panel with a man who had, three years previous, Mansplained my own PhD to me in the form of ‘questions’ at the end of a paper. I sobbed, I went home. I swore off academic conferences for life.

So I was done with the one thing I’d focused my life on, sacrificed most of my 20s to. And honestly I felt like I had no options left.

Because here’s the thing if you start your PhD in say your early/mid 20s when lots do. You firstly miss out on a lot of life-living (a topic for a another blog) but your’e also anywhere between 4-10 years behind everyone else in their career path. While they’ve gone from entry level or Graduate job, through internships to working up the ladder…you’ve missed all that. And nobody, and I mean nobody gives a damn about transferable PhD skills from a Humanities PhD.

And having just self-funded a PhD, with the view it was an ‘investment’ I’d gambled everything I had. I couldn’t just start again working for free. So I’ve spent 3 years scrambling from job to job. There’s been no plan, because well the plan has had to be ‘pay bills first’.

And so, I feel a failure because on paper, I am. I work as a temp earning minimum wage and I do judge my self worth, and my success by this, however much I shouldn’t.

Because no matter what else I might be achieving, we’re all conditioned to measure ourselves by our job title and salary.

About 2 years ago, one of my PhD plays came back into my life. That play, and a bit of regained confidence (and one incredibly ballsy email) restarted things for me. None of it fell into my lap- I’ve worked and fought every step of the way. Not all of it went to plan (nothing like someone else bringing out a book on the play, getting far trendier interviews than you’ll ever dream of, right when you’re trying to do it). And it’s been bloody hard work. But that spark, some more cheek, and a lot of hours work, have meant I feel like I’m finally starting to claw back. (read about my Angels adventures over on this blog)

For the last five months I’ve stayed in my part time temp job. I’ve stayed in this job for a couple of reasons. Partly because I had a need to ‘hit pause’. After frantically looking for a job when my last ended, failing to do that. And then suffering a major blow at the hands of another job (here). I was done. Two years post-PhD and the juggle of the self-funded-never-ending PhD caught up with me. I could no longer lurch from one thing to another. And I was tired, so tired. So when I realised I had some temp job security, I decided enough was enough. Take the job you don’t have to think too hard in, that you leave in work at the end of a shift and just take a breather.

Except of course I’m not. I took the breather to take a gamble. Take a gamble on whether I could make a go of other things. This is the side I’m proud of post-PhD. Because it’s the work that feels like ‘real’ work…but none of it I make a living off (though finally I’m getting paid for some of it).

I’m hitting pause to work on several major ‘projects’ and juggling as a ever a few minor ones. Taking centre stage (or actually competing for it) are a play commission, and a book contract. Both things I’ve dreamed off since I was a child. On a good day I can believe that these are the start, that there’ll be other plays, and other books. On a bad day I say I’m deluding myself, throwing away chances for a proper job for a play nobody will see, and will lead to nothing, and a book nobody will read. On the bad days it feels self indulgent, that I have to justify it, like I am here. That I shouldn’t be allowed to. That I should just grow up and get a real job.

I hold onto the fact that either way at least I’ll have done them. And I’d regret more not giving them a chance.

The other secret is, and this is a guilty one: I’ve been really happy doing it. I love that I get a chance to dedicate to this. Even if it is exhausting- I regularly between day job and ‘real jobs’ am working 10-12 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week. I went 6 weeks without a day off at all.But then there’s weeks where I’m able to only do ‘Day Job’ a couple of days…and I feel guilty for not working more hours. But if I work more hours, the other stuff doesn’t get done, and I feel guilty for just being stuck in the day job…and so on. But I’m happy. I don’t hate the day job like I have other jobs, because I don’t feel stuck in it. Because I can tell myself it really is a means to an end. And it feels like a real privilege to spend a few months again working on things I really love.

But I still feel guilty. That I’m not doing enough, not achieving enough. I look at other people (even though I shouldn’t) who are further along their careers than I am (and always younger) who seem to get all the opportunities, who are in with the in crowd. And I feel like I’ll always be falling short, just like  I was in academia.

None of this is where I saw myself three years later when I Graduated.

But to be honest I had no idea where that would be either.

A friend of a friend once said that the real measure post PhD is where someone is in 5 years. And that in between there’s, well frankly a lot of crap was the summary I got. So maybe that’s it. Maybe wait it out a bit longer.

Oh and as a P.S. I’ve gotten a lot of ‘advice’ in the last 3 years. Some well meaning. Some not so. Here’s a brief list of things that aren’t helpful:

1. Why don’t you just get a job doing…(insert something here that is either very obvious or very unhelpful)

2. I know someone with (insert PhD that is nothing like yours) and he’s doing…

3. Anything that starts with ‘In my day we…’

4. Implying we haven’t ‘paid our dues’ enough. Or worked. Or ever had a proper job.

5. Saying that more people fail than succeed. I’ve failed a LOT. I know. But excuse me if I want to spend 5 minutes being inspired by someone who didn’t.

Finally, I want to acknowledge that I wouldn’t be writing this blog. I wouldn’t be doing a lot of things if it weren’t for the support of a lot of people. It might take a village to write a PhD but that village also keeps a lot of us going after. You know who you are. Thank you.

Let’s see where we are this time next year everyone.

The Destiny of Me (Review)

The first because it was a benefit reading for The New Group. Announced just a few days before I left, and in a wildly reckless scramble for tickets I booked. A scramble from the plane, to hotel and train later was I have to say, 100% worth it. This was one of those New York Theatre nights you get once a decade, and usually by accident.

For those who maybe stumble onto this blog for this post, Kramer’s work is both very significant in my professional life and linked to the reason for this trip. I wrote my PhD on theatrical responses to HIV/AIDS, and had followed ‘my’ Angels  (in America) to their new home on Broadway as part of the research for my book on the play. How then could I miss a chance to see Kramer’s play, starring an actor from Angels, and introduced by Tony Kushner?

Larry Kramer’s less known, lesser performed sequel to The Normal Heart would be a rare treat any time. The cast assembled for the benefit however made it even more so. Led by Mark Ruffalo, who starred as Ned in the film (which I realise as I wrote this I saw exactly 4 years ago for the first time). Alongside Gideon Glick as young Ned, Lee Pace as Benjamin, Ellen Barkin as Rena Weeks, Eric Bogosian as Richard Weeks and Josh Hamilton as Dr Anthony Della Vida.

Even in a reading situation, the greatness of the play shines through. It’s a long play as Tony Kushner joked (pot, kettle black and all), albeit one with some cuts now. While The Normal Heart focuses on Ned Weeks at the centre of the AIDS crisis, his family background and what made him the man he was seeps into that narrative. The Destiny of me flips that, with Ned grappling with the AIDS crisis- and his own illness- forming the backdrop to the story of his family, and how he became that man.

Told through Young Ned talking to present day Ned, we see back to his teenage years, sexual discovery and realtionship with his Father, Mother and Brother. The overbearing nature of his Mother, distance and difficulty of his Father and the seeming ‘Perfection’ of his older brother Benjamin. Ned’s struggles with himself, and his family are interjected by his current reality, doing battle with his illness, and mourning the loss of his friends.

It’s a clever play that shows off Kramer’s narrative and theatrical talent. While The Normal Heart is it’s own work of genius, that is a play borne of anger and fire, written quickly in respose to crisis. That anger and fire is it’s power, it’s honesty and what makes it the rallying cry that endures. The Destiny of me is a more refined play, it’s a less urgent play, it’s the reflection Ned and Kramer weren’t sure they would get. In addressing the Epidemic, it’s a moment of stock taking- written in a moment where things were improving, but at a point when all those losses were still raw, still continued, and before treatment, and longevity could be assured. The anger is there, but its tempered by time, questioning and mourning instead of shouting. The family element is a cleverly crafted piece of writing, that shows off Kramer’s talent. Imaginative but with brutal honesty. Ned asks the questions of his family most dare not, and they answer him with equal clarity.

The assembled cast rose to the challenge of Kramer’s complex play. Ellen Barkin was cutting and funny as Ned’s Mother, but also quietly devastating when needed. The less showy role of Ned’s Father, given a quiet dignity by Eric Bogosian, and  a real sadness. As the ‘Perfect’ Brother Benjamin, Lee Pace was quietly understated. A softly spoken actor, he brought a gentleness to the part that is a lovely contrast to Ned’s boorishness. And this being the first time I’d really seen Pace perform, a wonderful introduction to him as an actor (before, ahem spending a further 14 hours watching him on stage this week..I really didn’t intend to stalk the man on stage, really.)

Meanwhile ‘The Neds’ showed a clever through line in their younger/older selves. Young Ned being charming, effervescent and full of life (and showtunes), morphs into to grumpy, scruffy in voice and demeanor interpretation by Mark Ruffalo. But even in a reading the actors brought together mannerisms, ways of speaking that showed the younger Ned in older, and Older in Younger. Cleverly performed, particularly with little rehearsal, they were in sync throughout and held together the play’s central conceit of these two part of the same man-and the differences in him. The use of showtunes, by young Ned, was funny and charming shifting to devastating when older Ned joins in. And something in the purity of Glick’s beautiful voice, against the harsh, unrefined tones of Ruffalo’s singing made that moment all the more magical, and tragic.

This reading was a rare (especially for a Brit) opportunity to see this rarely performed play. The fact Kramer has done re-writes gives me hope there will be a production somewhere, sometime in the future. Taking a lead from his fellow traveler Kushner, I’d suggest making a day of it, and doing both The Normal Heart and The Destiny of Me in Rep. after all as Kramer apparently protested when told his play was too long, if Tony can have 7.5 hours….

Seeing the play was one highlight. But I cannot write this without talking about the others. Being in the room with Larry Kramer was itself enough.

As I said above, I’d flown that morning from London, got off the plane dumped my bags and hurried across New York. I got lost on the way home. It was a nightmare. It was a stupid idea. I’d do it all again.

Kramer’s work has been a force of nature in my life. A guiding force, and something that gives me a much needed kick up the arse many a time. If Larry wrote this in the midst of the worst experiences anyone could have in life, if Larry can do all he did for the community, then I too can get up and keep working. I’ve spend years reading about him, reading his work. Being inspired by him. My second biggest argument in my PhD was because they made me cut the chapters on The Normal Heart (the biggest was about Foucault, the third about War Horse for anyone keeping score).

I walked into the theatre and saw Larry just standing there. I live in Wales, I never thought I’d stand in a room with Larry Kramer. To see him, alive and well, ready to hear his play. That, was something. To sit and listen to Tony Kushner (whose play, we may remember I was crossing an ocean to see, again) talk about this play, what Larry has done and achieved. To be in that room. That doesn’t happen to kids from Wales who never grew up knowing what theatre was. Who were barely allowed to know what gay people were.

And it was his Birthday.

To sit in a theatre, in New York, and sing Happy Birthday to Larry Kramer on his 83rd Birthday. Because my work, my research and my passions had somehow conspired to bring me there. It was special.

The coming blogs about this trip detail how emotional, important, significant etc etc it was for me. That it started out this way is an indication of what the whole trip meant. And maybe it won’t make sense to a lot of people. And I’m making sense of what it all means, really and maybe it makes no sense to most people. But I’ve worked on some of this research for nearly 10 years. I’ve been passionate about most of these plays, these writers for longer. I’ve grown up with them, and they’re a part of me.

So this slightly foolish decision to rush from JFK…it was important. And it started a week of poignant moments for me. So thank you, to the New Group, for making a little nerd, who grew up a bigger nerd, who crossed an ocean, really happy.

A few of my own pictures…

The Boys in the Band (Review)

The Boys in the Band is known for being the “first gay play”. Obviously not the first by any stretch it was however the first commercially successful, and if you will ‘mainstream’ gay play. It also was one of few to reach that status before the AIDS epidemic hit, and changed the gay community, and theatre by and for the gay community for the following decades.

Like ‘The Destiny of Me’ before it, this play was a most symbiotic addition to my trip. Having spent many years studying the use of theatre as a response to the AIDS crisis, seeing one of the few commercially and critically successful ‘gay plays’ to predate the crisis, and theatre that followed was very pertinent. Having traveled to see Angels in America, seeing a taste of gay theatre’s trajectory before it was also a fascinating accompaniment.

The Boys in the Band was also staged in London last year, so it was with recent knowledge of a production that I went in. The play itself, as fittingly Tony Kushner writes in his introduction to the 40th Anniversary edition, is a first play and suffers many of the issue of a first play. It is still however comedic and moving, and a fascinating slice of early liberation life. Some comments on the play dismiss it as ‘dated’. It is no more dated than any historical piece. While Kushner’s play retains continued relevance on it’s political spectrum, it’s slice of life from the 80s may be viewed as just as dated. Both continue to be relevant. The fact the Crowley’s writing may make us uncomfortable with it’s attitudes to sexuality, gender and race is in of itself reason to see and consider the play.

This production takes a darker tone to the London production, which was effervescent in its energy and enthusiasm but perhaps skirted around the darker tones of the play. That said there is a sense of perhaps overly worthiness to this that goes against the grain of Crowley’s writing at times. But overall the sense of taking comedy seriously and understanding the darkness that lies just beneath the surface really gets to the heart of the play.

It is a play full of kitchy camp humour, but there’s a dangerous and dark undertone to it. As the company gathers for Harold’s birthday (“she likes to make an entrance” late in the piece) there’s campy barbs at one another, over the top dampness that while hilarious also acted when written as a means of owning gay identified. And in fact this remains the case today. Alongside the fun and frolics of the Birthday party, a number of serious sub plots are weaved. They are a group of men conflicted over themselves, and their relationships. From the potentially closeted former roommate who may actually be the most clear cut of characters, to the formally married man, to the man who desperately doesn’t like being a homosexual, to the man who embraces promiscuity. None are quite settled with the role they have given themselves, none are really able to admit to or address why. For an older play Crowley also addresses issues of race and difference. Yes, his Black character receives the kind of insults seen as intolerable today, but ‘of their time’ in the play, but Crowley addresses this. He’s also ahead of his time in addressing the issue of bodily perfection and ideals in the gay community- and the issue of those who fit outside them. Crowley is a shrewd observer of his world, and it’s worrying how even in the dated living room, much of this world is familiar.

The cast is as talented as they are star- studded. Jim Parsons continues to prove he is far more than his sitcom alter-ego, and brings shades of his Tommy from The Normal Heart to Michael, the party’s host. Next to him Matt Bomer as Donald gives an understated and powerful performance. A far quieter role in every respect to the others, but he does much with it, and the final moments in which the audience ‘sit with’ him, and director Joe Mantello gives character and audience a chance to reflect is a powerful one.

A less affecting performance was Zarchary Quinto as Harold. The only performance in which I found myself comparing to London-where Mark Gatiss played the role- even without comparison however, Quinto’s interpretation didn’t quite land. While Harold is a character, by his own admission, playing a role of villain, performing and pushing buttons on Michael and the other friends, there was something too ‘Pantomime Villain’ in his performance. Too over the top to see what lies beneath. And too surface level to believe there was much more. Standing out perhaps against the nuanced performances others were giving, Harold really needs to have a chink in his own performative nature for the character to really land at the end, and with Quinto that just never quite clicked.

The entire cast offer strong performances, but the standout was Andrew Rannells. Proving what many musical theatre fans have known of his acting ability for years, he managed a nuanced and sensitive performance. Larry is a challenging character- easy to brush off as a shallow, attractive foil for others. But there’s much heart to the character, and much to say about the gay community- torn between promiscuity and a clear love of his boyfriend Alan. There is a lot going on in the part, and Rannells brings a true sensativity to him, to the extent it is Alan and Larry’s relationship that really steals the narrative focus- something that actually Crowley may have intended, under the bitching and banter, there is this complicated and beautiful relationship happening.

The complexity of the Larry/Alan relationship cuts to the heart of what Crowley wrote, and what Mantello pulls out in this darker production. On one level the gay community was screaming, partying and living free. On another they are trying to negotiate relationships with each other with no guidelines- do you continue to live subversively now liberation is coming? do you mimic heterosexual lifestyles? is there a middle ground? and what has this along with patriarchal culture done to the psyche of gay men?

Some 40 years later, gay men still grapple with these issues. And while much has changed, little has changed. Gay life is still an endless set of negotiations, outings, and balancing public and private personas. It’s complicated and messy and there’s no prescribed answers. So while Crowley’s play has thankfully dated in many ways, it’s also cuttingly pertinent.

Right down to the unraveling of or exposure of Michael’s mental health. That he is falling  apart, in  part due to who he is, and an inability to reconcile it, a lack of facility to discuss it, while the man who seems to love him feels he’s standing helplessly by. There’s much in that gay men today can recognise, there’s much in that anyone can recognize.

The decision to perform this play with openly gay actors is a strong political statement. In a country whose main TV and Film industries still make it difficult for Gay people to be out and still work, Mantello and producer Ryan Murphy were making a strong statement. As were the actors involved. There is something there also in choosing a historic play  for a company of gay actors to perform. A statement of how far we’ve come and yet how little. It shouldn’t be something we applaud and yet, I do applaud a company of out and proud gay men, standing on Broadway and owing that piece of gay history. And seeming to ask the question ‘We got this far,  what next then?’

The World Only Spins Forward

It’s taken me two weeks to write this. Two weeks since I personally said goodbye to this production, and to this play for whoever knows how long. Long before I got on a plane and traveled halfway across the world for it, I asked myself how do you say goodbye? To a production that’s spent two, almost three years nestled in my brain. Two years of it in production. Of writing about it again. Of finding a love for it again.

I think the answer is you don’t. I think I never have, much like Prior’s prophecy this play has become part of me. Except I didn’t reject it. Which I think legitimately means I can declare ‘Fuck you I’m a Prophet’ whenever I feel like it.

What I will do instead, is write my own Epilogue.

But of course, it’s longer than these two, almost three years. I’ve lived with this play for fourteen years. I’ve grown up with this play. I’ve grown into it. When I started I was over a decade younger than Prior and Louis. This time around I was their age. Perhaps that’s why it’s so powerful; we align the art we love to the moments they hit in our own lives. And we grow into them. You can love this play at any age if you’re ready for it.  At 19 I was ready for it. I needed it. It took me through a year of grief, of being ‘lost to myself’, of discovering sexuality. Of discovering a voice in theatre that spoke to me like no other.

I needed this play when I found it (the film version, then the text) at 19. And despite living with it continuously in between (a sometimes-fraught relationship granted), it came back to me when I needed it again. More powerfully than the first time. At 32 it meant more. Having lived through, if not the same things then similar resonances, I recognise more of myself in these characters (not just Louis’ life as an office temp who breaks things and hits his head….and talks too much…though that rings particularly true). Moreover, I went into this production twice, in London and New York, and came out changed once again. What play, what work changes you not once in a lifetime but twice?

I’ve said goodbye to this play many times, in many ways (sometimes in anger) but this time is the hardest. Because I feel like this production, like Prior’s visit to heaven, brought me back from the dead (metaphorically speaking….and is the whole thing metaphoric, does that make it any less real…questions for another day). And there’s nothing like a protracted goodbye to make it harder. I cheated in London. I already knew it was coming back. I was still sad that chapter was over. I was changed by it in London. I was elated by what being a (tiny) part of it had given me. And then ‘something just fell apart’. Those months since were the darkest I’ve had for many years, for many reasons. And it’s no exaggeration that seeing Angels again in June pulled me through. Just get to June I’d tell myself in particular dark moments. Just get to June.

The day after I saw Angels the first time I sat by the Bethesda Fountain and felt like Harper’s description of the Ozone layer; I had absorbed the play again and was repaired.

And the love of it is what overwhelmed me that final time seeing it. Yes, I had moments of sadness. I sobbed through both opening monologues. Because those are the benchmarks of this crazy beautiful wonderful play- a Rabbi and a Bolshevik giving a lecture. And because Susan Brown. Who is not only a revelation on stage, but who is the kindest most generous of humans. My ‘Mother Pitt’ in this production who I am so grateful to for indulging this madness.Because seeing it again, seeing it the last time it wasn’t goodbye, it was coming home. From the very first moment it felt like being back where I belonged. Some performances fill you with adrenaline and chasing a high of amazement. For me, Angels fills me with an incredible sense of both peace and fulfillment. I worried, following the play to New York. All that time away. With a new cast, new staging. The weight of expectation, that it wouldn’t, as Roy says, ‘measure up.’ But as soon as it began I was home once more. I worried too that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it- my analytical brain kicking in, the panic of ‘you said you’d write a book about this’ and my emotions at seeing it again/for the last time. None of it mattered. The moment it started I was back in that world, absorbed, feeling everything that pulled me to it to begin with. Yes, my brain still whirred at 1000 MPH. But in a wonderful way, in that sense of ‘I know you, I know who I am with you.’

Final performances are always odd ones. You can’t help but be pulled out now and again, realising it’s the last time you’ll see something. ‘Moon River’ always gets me, as well it should, but I remember thinking ‘I’m going to miss them’. Because as much as there is sadness in the abstract ‘this play will be gone again’ there’s an incredibly personal pull to this production, this team of actors (past and present). I will miss them. I think with plays we love we all have ‘our’ production, the one that attaches itself to your heart and mind and won’t let go.

It took me 14 years of loving this play to find my version. It took 14 years for it to all fall into place and say ‘Yes this is what I knew but hadn’t seen’ and this company brought it into my heart in a way that even for me it hadn’t been before. Much like falling in love you ‘just know’. When I sat in a tech rehearsal seeing the not-quite finished version of some random moments: I knew. And when I heard Andrew Garfield declare ‘More Life!’ one last time, I knew nothing would ever touch this again. For me this is it.

It isn’t about perfection. I can (and no doubt will) professionally deconstruct this production. I can (and no doubt will) see equally good Prior Walters and Louis Ironsons in my life (I contest we will ever see a Hannah Pitt of such calibre, empirically that’s got to be true right?). I don’t dispute that this Prior, this Louis, this Angel weren’t for everyone. This isn’t everyone’s special production. But for some of us it was. It was that moment of perfect alchemy; the right production, the right actor, one line that gets you, one moment of visual perfection. But most importantly, it was all those at the right time. And most importantly the moment you’re ready for it to attach itself to you and never let go.

Because it’s the external stuff that matters too. When I sat down in the theatre for the final PerestroikaI turned to my Mum and said, ‘It’s the last one and I’m sad’ and burst into tears. I said, ‘It’s been two years of my life.’ Two years and so much more. And Mum started to cry and said, ‘I know I’ve been there with you.’ It has been so much beyond what is on stage, and it is so much not enough to try and consolidate it into words. Words are indeed the worst things.

4814

‘Nothing’s lost forever’ after all, and this play will come again. The joy and sadness of theatre is that it’s ephemeral. I can never recapture any of those performances, and all of them were different, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. That’s what makes it special.  But as theatre fans we still mourn the loss of a production- the play we love only lives as long as it’s performed, and while it is then it’s a living breathing thing out in the world, and then it is, as we say in theatre ‘dark’ once more. The Neil Simon will go dark tonight and with it this version of this thing so many of us love. And I am sad because people who need and love this play won’t go back to rediscover it. And sadder still that, for now at least, people won’t have a place to discover it anew.  It’s a play that will be back. In some form or another. And so ‘I’ll miss them’ I don’t just mean this group of actors performing it, I mean I’ll miss these characters being real, out there in the world again night after night. And I will miss it. I will miss that it is alive again, that somewhere it is existing as a living breathing thing as it was written to be. I will miss that it is there for people to discover. Every night it is performed is a chance for someone else to find it, to love it, to be changed by it.

Because that has been my true joy these past couple of years. That’s why writing the programme essay for the National was so important to me; to share this and to help other people understand and find a love of it. And despite the opportunities that have come my way because of this, the greatest by far has been to share that with people. I don’t know how to explain the frustration, the isolation of writing about this play and feeling like nobody cared about it or what I had to say was. And how great a revelation (threshold of…) it has been to finally share that with others. And to see others discover it for the first time. Again, when you truly love a piece of work, you want others to share it, to love it as you do.

I am aware of how utterly ridiculous I am. It’s just a play. And I confess I’ve felt frustrated, judged even at times over the last couple of years. For my love of it. But for every disparaging comment, every eye roll, there’s been someone who gets it. From the people who came up to me at the theatre or arranged to meet because we were there at the same time. For the friends who hugged me hard and shared the day in London with me last summer. To the friends on Twitter who ceaselessly have cheered me on. To everyone who gets it. To everyone who reads these epic monologues of blog posts.  You are fabulous creatures each and every one, and you made this.

7b4ca-5000

Because as much as my sadness is the abstract- this play will be gone again. It’s also an incredibly personal, I will miss the joy of it being in my life. And without it always being there-even just out of reach- there is of course a sense of ‘what next?’ My honest, and terrible fear is that this is it. That this is all I get. That was my moment and that’s it. My Mum kept saying to me in New York ‘this is just the beginning’. This play brought me this far. So I hope she’s right.

Short Story-time on that. When we went to New York, Susan Brown invited me and Mum to have a drink in her dressing room with her. My Mum has tirelessly supported my work- not least in seeing an 8 hour play twice in one holiday- to using the money she made dog sitting to pay for it, when I couldn’t. To let me see this thing I loved, that I had poured myself into, one last time. And that’s just this year. Never mind the PhD support- she’s also gone on multiple ‘theatre holidays’ and when I was a kid stood at Broadway and London Stage doors with me so I could be the nerd I am. Taking my Mum, backstage on Broadway, introducing her to my most favourite actor in the play (and person). That’s places I never thought I’d go. Those moments make everything worth it- the chance to say thank you as well. (the story of how James McArdle thought he’d nearly knocked her over with a chair is slightly less magical but a memory nonetheless)

Which brings me to, line that made me cry the hardest the final three times (London and New York) that I saw it. And it’s not one I ever expected. Not one I ever noticed before if I’m honest.

“You’ll find, my friend, what you love will take you places you never dreamed you’d go”

3333

It’s Roy Cohn for God’s sake. You’re not supposed to align yourself with Roy Cohn in this play-or frankly anywhere in life. And as much as this blog isn’t to rehash these stories, I have to say without this play, without this production I don’t know where I’d be. This play really did take me places I never dreamed I’d go. I hope it will continue to do that. And I will forever be grateful to the doors it opened (or at least loosened enough for me to kick down). And even if it was the end, it really did take me some places.

And despite my anxious mind (have I ever mentioned just how ‘Louis’ I am in life?) what I take from this production, from my final goodbye, is hope. This production, I can’t quite articulate for those who have never seen others, is so filled with hope. Lascivious- awful at times, granted but it swells at the end to this great chorus of theatrical and philosophical hopefulness. And I still don’t quite know how. It’s in there, it’s all in the text, but there’s some strange Angels-Magic in this version that makes that feeling of hope impossible to ignore. And that’s what I chose to focus on in that last performance.

That’s what Kushner wants of us in that final Epilogue. To take those seven-odd-hours (c’mon Tony we know you wrote 9 hours worth) of theatre. Of that experience we have shared, and take it back out into the world. That’s why Prior addresses the audience in the end. That’s why Marianne Elliott raises the house lights (I still curse your name aloud for that). It’s to tell us, take this, all of it into you and out into the world. And that’s what I plan to do with this production, with this two years.  To bottle that energy- that hope- that forward motion. The world only spins forward after all….and take it with me.

 

Picture4

“I’m almost done”

It’s ‘so much not enough, it’s so inadequate’ but I of course want to end on a thank you. To those who made it happen. Maybe you know what you did, what you were a part of (I like to think every person who works on this play does to a degree) maybe you don’t. But know you changed one person. Thank you to the actors; Amanda Lawrence, Denise Gough, Nathan Lane, Russell Tovey, Lee Pace, James McArdle, Beth Malone, Susan Brown and Andrew Garfield. Thank you to every Angel ‘Shadow’ and understudy in London and New York (especially the magical Mateo Oxley), to everyone work worked on the production, the technical crews and stage management.

To Tony Kushner for giving it back (and the re-writes).

And of course, to Marianne Elliott for giving it ‘More Life’ in a lifetime I could never express my love and awe at what you created. And my gratitude for how you have treated me as a person.

This play lives on, because of you all. And I plan to play my part, by documenting just how special it was…and finishing the damn book.

“Bye now. You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you. More Life!”

ip6eZMl-asset-mezzanine-16x9-G3sAbjm.png.crop.1920x1080

More life! Angels in America on Broadway

“More Life” Revisiting revival

It’s a rare luxury to revisit any theatre production later in its life. More so to see an evolved production. That’s what visiting Angels on Broadway feels like. They are of course the same production…but not. This is a production that has ‘flown home’ and now exists before a home crowd audience. One which knows not only the nuances of the play, but the world in which it lives. Theatre is a living breathing thing, the play we watch on stage is created with the audience. And so, the Broadway production is a unique entity- the same production but different in many respects.

“I live in America Louis” on audiences

In terms of audiences, this is a critical thing to address- both in terms of the play’s place with Broadway audiences and how they engage with it. But I’ve been going to Broadway for about 15 years, and I’ve never seen a play greeted with such rapture as this one. It was more like watching a musical- applause after every scene, cheering at lines, spontaneous applause. And while my British sensibilities meant I couldn’t help but mutter ‘he hasn’t done anything yet’ at Nathan Lane’s entrance applause (and giving my own British passive aggressive silent applause for everyone else who didn’t get it…). The audiences know these characters. They’ve come home. And the way they interact with them shapes a viewing of the play.

Of course, audiences are audiences the world over and with them comes the…interesting elements of shared experience. From lady behind you recites the Kaddish (and the Kiddish) along with Louis…then declares ‘He didn’t think he knew it, but he did!’ (clearly channelling her inner Ethel Rosenberg). Or the audible gasp, still unclear of joy or horror, when all of Lee Pace was revealed. Or indeed the woman who asked, ‘Did he give him AIDS?’ when Louis wipes the Pepto Bismol from Joe’s face. The latter perhaps proof positive of the continued relevance of this play as education wherever in the world.

 

“The Magic of the theatre I guess”- On Staging

Changes to the staging come from transposing a piece designed for the National Theatre’s Lyttleton Stage, to a smaller, older Broadway house. The Lyttleton is notoriously one of the most difficult in London to stage on (indeed as an article around the time of Angels production outlined). The stage in New York is smaller, with less of the technical tools the National Theatre has the luxury of, so the staging is naturally adapted somewhat. But it enhances what was already in the design rather than diminishing it.

The smaller staging works better in Millennium with the revolving platforms pushed closer together and giving a greater sense of cramped New York living, and the inevitability of ‘revolving’ into each other’s lives. Indeed, in the split scenes where characters cross over and crash into each other’s ‘spheres’ the claustrophobia of their own relationships, and the ‘crashing into’ the worlds of another feels far more effective. And while the same ‘pulling the rug away’ effect isn’t quite had as the existing set moves back, for the end of Millennium the exposed stage floor starts the theatrical unravelling, while the literal messy sets of Perestroika again work well on the smaller stage, piling on and falling over each other as things unravel. The changes may have been logistical in some respects, but they work with the feel of a production whose design is as integral as its performances.

The biggest artistic tweaking however is the ‘Heaven’ scene. Still drawing on the theatrical imagery/metaphor that runs through this final act of the play, ‘Heaven’ is more elaborate, more deliberate than in London. Where in London there were bare walls and the far off reaches of the Lyttleton, here a velvet curtain parts admitting Prior to Heaven. Resplendent in his robes, it’s fitting he parts the curtain bathed in warm light before entering the starkness of the Angels’ Council Room. While the London staging worked well here, this is an instance of the re-staging elevating this scene. The sense of the theatrical-the meta-theatrical that is running through the scene is made resplendent- and fittingly for Broadway through these changes to staging.  Above all what Elliott and the design team do to the restaging is retain the essence of the play that was built from the ground up, and while adapting to its new space adapt and augment the visual identity of the piece.

Considering the staging- and re-staging is critical, as the visual identity was so key in this production’s re-defining elements of the play. Elliott’s ending, with theatrical visual layered on theatrical metaphor is as important a visual signature as the changes to the Angel. Again, reviving a production is rendered useless if in part you aren’t re-writing it. Performances are also tied to their physical spaces, and the changes for the Neil Simon mark this production out as belonging there.

That New York holds onto its own personal visual identity in the history of the production is important. This play is wedded also to the theatres it is performed in. In London it grew from the Cottesloe to the Lyttleton. In New York it migrated from the Walter Kerr to the Neil Simon. There is much to be said of the history of the play with buildings, but for now that the previous inhabitant of that theatre was Cats (Singing Cats!) and the next will be The Cher musical, well that’s a fitting epitaph for a revival too. (If somewhat disappointing Nathan Lane didn’t appear on opening night in a Cat costume).

In a final note on staging, in the Epilogue, when the house lights come up in the theatre, the grandiose of the Neil Simon theatre, that old fashioned Broadway house really plays into that moment. Sitting in the Mezzanine particularly, you see the lights on the giant chandelier gradually warm up to life as Prior gives his final address. That’s a location specific piece of money can’t buy theatrical magic. The fabulousness of the golden chandelier as Prior bids us farewell, the gilded walls of the theatre. That’s fairly fabulous, that’s very Prior Walter. And of course, let the record show I still curse Marianne Elliott’s name aloud in my head every time that happens, for sheer genius of the moment and because nobody needs to see just how much I’m crying at that point.

“I read People” on new actors (and old)

Key also to the changes in the play are of course the new cast members. Previously sharing the role with original Angel Amanda Lawrence, Beth Malone took over the role full time in May. Malone doesn’t mimic Lawrence’s take on the Angel, and her quirkiness differs to Lawrence’s eccentricities, in a way that retains the essence of the Angel as written, and as directed by Elliott, but allows for the actors’ own personalities. Essential in this other-worldly creature that is difficult to pin down (literally). Malone’s is an energetic, acrobatic and seems to mesh the Angel with some of Nurse Emily’s fast-talking-New-Yorker. Accompanying Malone are the new Angel ‘shadows’ whose choreography and role has been changed slightly as well. But utilising the strength of New York’s pool of dancers/acrobats has really paid off- the puppetry and movement of the Angel, while sublimely impressive in London really flies with this team of ‘Shadows’ whose career is focused on dance and movement. Malone herself shows herself to be a skilled mover as well and the already impressive puppetry and unique flying of this production is really elevated in their hands.

 

The second addition is Lee Pace as Joe. It’s easy to forget until watching a switch in actor, in an existing production, just how much Joe touches characters across the play, and therefore how much other actors’ performances are influenced. Pace is a softly spoken, gentle actor who inhabits Joe as such. A more stoic, precise Joe as well, he is believable as the lawyer, the consummate politician. There’s a manner in which Pace holds himself that gives Joe a sense of ‘holding in’ and ‘holding back’. Pace plays Joe, it appears more as a man struggling with his sexuality, than Tovey’s version- which appeared to be a take of a closeted man angry at himself. It seems a genuine surprise to him when Louis declares him ‘Confused’. Pace embodies this element too, seeming a man out of step with the rest of the world making him feel he doesn’t belong within it.

Joe’s character reaches across the play, his performance intersecting and impacting with much of the original cast. Crucially on Denise Gough, whose Harper is probably the most changed performance from London. While in London there was a searing anger to her performance, off the back of Tovey’s as Joe. Their relationship is less fraught, less angry and ultimately feels more tragic as a result. Gough’s Harper bounces off Pace’s quiet confusion, her anger is a slower burn, brought out of his actions rather than who he is. In early scenes there’s a sense of their character’s equal confusion and fear of life having brought them together. And when Pace says with the greatest of fondness he loved how she was ‘always wrong’ there’s an echo of what once was between them.

Joe also intersects with the storylines, and therefore the performances of Nathan Lane’s Roy Cohn and James McArdle’s. And while little can steer Nathan Lane from his performance course, there is a sense of the Joe/Roy relationship tempered by the presence of a quite different actor in the role. There is a fairly sizeable shift to the dynamics of Louis and Joe, parallel really to the shift between Harper and Joe. One that shifts from an amusing, sweet flirtation in which it appears the Joe is genuinely ‘Confused’ to something of a friendship (involving eating hotdogs, which they actually eat. Whoever made that decision thank you). More importantly Pace’s more genteel, naive approach to Joe makes his relationship with Louis ultimately one that is incredibly sad. With Pace they are two lost souls clinging on, rather than crashing into each other. And with their final showdown in the ‘Have you no decency’ scene it’s a heart wrenching thing to watch two men tearing at each other both emotionally and physically because they’ve gone beyond any capacity to do otherwise.

Pace doesn’t provide a ‘better’ performance than Tovey did, but their respective Joes serve to illustrate the different interpretations of the character, and the complexities Kushner has written, which also reverberate across the other characters in the play.

The rest of the company have of course continued to evolve their performances. A rare opportunity for an actor also to both sit with a play this long, and get to re-stage it after the original run, and all of the company have adapted and grown in their performances and it’s a joy to revisit. Having seen the first two show day, and an almost to last performance, the spectrum of performances, the changes across the run are fascinating to consider.

James McArdle’s Louis is as intelligent a performance as in London, taking on the most difficult (in every sense) character in the play with finesse. He’s grown into the character further- helped by a change of Joe with which to experiment more in this run. But he’s also settled into the role, it feels more organic. In London his speech was by the book- literally- his pauses and affectations of speech following the punctuation of Kushner’s writing to the letter. It worked, was genius in fact because Kushner’s genius is to write the character into his words so precisely. But now McArdle has grown his Louis into something more organic, more his own. And it works wonders. He is still neurotic, and difficult but he feels also more vulnerable, more confused and so more endearing- a hell of a challenge for a character like his.

As above, Denise Gough has also shifted, what was an already incredible performance into something new. It feels a more settled Harper as well, calmer yes, but also one settled into the performer to push her further. We get more of Harper this time, more of who she was and who she could be woven into the performance. Her humour also- laughing with her not just at her wilder antics-is a crucial part Gough is now bringing out. And a quietness, and stillness that for Harper in contrast to the flights of fancy is so important in understanding her character. Gough’s triumphant moment however is always when she sits alone on stage and delivers the ‘Night Flight to San Francisco’ speech. Again, a moment of stillness in Perestroika’s ceaseless energy. She quietly pulls an audience back in after all they have seen and sends them on their way.

Amid all the bigger parts, Susan Brown is still doing incredible, often overlooked work as Ethel and Hannah. Both seem to have gained a cheeky, funny edge since their time in New York and it’s joyful to watch. Although both serious characters, they are often in ridiculous situations, and the humour that Brown brings brings a slice of realness to even the literal fantastical moments. Her Hannah still has a real emotional core that it’s easy to overlook. Her scene with Prior in the hospital is one of the most moving in the play and again comes out of an actor who knows the power of quiet and stillness in a performance. Meanwhile Ethel Rosenberg- the real-not-real-ghost-not-quite remains a force to be reckoned with. Holding both dramatic and comedic own alongside Nathan Lane is no mean feat, but Brown manages and then some- they’re a well-matched pair and their Ethel and Roy strike the balance of humour and darkness the story commands. And a nod to being in New York strengthening the twang of Ethel’s accent somewhat too.

Finally, Andrew Garfield’s Prior. It’s hard to describe without sounding dismissive of his earlier performances, but his seems the biggest evolution. And that is on top of an already accomplished performance. His Prior now seems actually older, more measured than previously. And there is a balance there- while in early performances he started “high” on the emotional scale, and was left with nowhere to go, there is now a more tempered approach. It gives him places to go on Prior’s ‘journey’ which isn’t linear and is often nonsensical from an emotional as well as narrative perspective. Garfield has embraced that, and he now moves- to quote Prior ‘with elegance and grace’ through the play. He isn’t afraid to let the Queen inside Prior out when needed, but she’s now deployed to full effect, and when needed rather than always bubbling beneath the surface. His real strength as an actor in this role is a comedic sense of who Prior is. He brings out the wit and charm of the man we never meet in this play- the pre-AIDS Prior, and those moments shine. A look or an inflection taking a line and rendering it hilarious in the face of the darkness- that gets to the root of the character, and that’s what make Andrew Garfield’s Prior special. Over the run he’s honed down to that, he pulls the tragedy, the vulnerability sure- and he isn’t afraid of that, it’s not coated in anything or reticent at all. And what he may lack in a darker edge to Prior, is balanced by the humour as a weapon. It’s the same side of the character brought out in a different way. It’s cleverly constructed, and while he’s clearly at ease in the role there’s a sense the work, even now is ongoing in that. Watching an actor climb the mountain of this role is something to see at any time. Being able to watch them grow it over two years has been something special indeed.

The World only Spins Foreword- On London and New York.

Audiences will be audiences, but in New York the inescapable feeling that this play has ‘come home’ and that the audience and actors are sharing that experience every single night. There is something inherently theatrical in the frisson of recognition when Harper first spins onto the stage, that feeling of ‘we know her’. Equally the way the jokes land, it must be said is one respect that that Broadway version can outstrip London. From gentle murmurs of recognition to references like ‘Pineapple Street’ to roars of laughter for comments about Ed Koch, it’s clear this play is embedded here. There’s a reason the 90s staging in London featured a glossary of terms in the programme, while the play can be universally understood these little touches add something in New York. There’s also an almost sporting-like rooting for the play, among those who know it and those who don’t, there’s both a cheering with, and cheering on of the play. While British audiences would never rise to the same level of enthusiasm there’s also something moving about a cheer when Prior stands up and shouts ‘I am a gay man, I am used to pressure.’ That sense of being a part of a community in that moment is a powerful thing.

But as much as the production has come home, it also belongs to London, and the company- both those that went with it and those who didn’t- who built it there. The history of this play is tied to the National Theatre, and in bringing this, the first Broadway revival that tie has been cemented.

And watching this play grow, evolve across two productions has been something special indeed. It’s a rare thing to get to see a play across a couple of versions, where the transfer isn’t, to quote Ben Brantley ‘Xerox revival’. To see the intelligence of a director at work, to tweak, alter and pull together again the same, but a slightly shifted version. That’s the essence of good revival, even of your own production. To see actors grow into roles, to shift in response to new partners, is fascinating. And to see the characters as written also grow with their interpretation. It’s a great thing as an audience member.

And of course, for myself, a highly personal, emotional journey. But that requires another essay. I learned from the best after all that some stories are best told at length, and in two parts. And, of course, that the second part is often messy, and emotional.