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Angels Crashing in: Broadway gets closer.

How many times can I fall in love with this play all over again?  And how also does it still hurt so damn much.

Photo: Annie Leibovitz for Vogue

It’s something that’s been kicking around my brain a lot, as the production moves towards Broadway.

Today spurned on by the article in Vogue and the gorgeous images taken by Annie Leibowitz I think I crystallized a few of those thoughts.

Let’s backtrack again. The article in Vogue. With pictures by Annie Leibowitz.

And of course the small fact that Angels is back on Broadway (in the theatre most recently housing Cats for added nerd value). And with a cast that includes Nathan Lane, Andrew Garfield, Lee Pace and the wonder-New-York-Recently-Discovered that is Denise Gough.  (I’m staking the claim now America, you don’t get to keep her.)

All of that is enough to make this nerd heart leap. But what I’m still struck by is the power this play still has. Even in the thinking about it.

The Messenger arrives in the original production

I spent years writing about this play in what felt like the backrooms of academia. This play has always been a pretty damn big deal. From opening at the National Theatre and on Broadway to great acclaim. To the theatrical, political and cultural statements and stirrings it caused. You don’t get to be ‘The most talked about written about’ play in American theatre for nothing. But, fighting my small corner on it,  I spent years of a PhD and beyond feeling like Louis and his piles of research- shouting from the photocopier hoping someone would listen. I’ve written about all this before. How I was done with it all. How this production changed all that, changed me. But I guess every time it still sneaks up and surprises me with the sheer force of it.

Actually through most of the PhD I looked like this.

Why does it still surprise me how much I fall in love with it?

“You’re not stupid so don’t ask stupid”

Alright Mormon Mother you’re right.

But why then does it also feel like my heart is breaking?

“When your heart breaks you should die.”

Thanks for that Harper.

 And the emotions all of this- as the Broadway production is in rehearsals, as the theatre is being dressed, as it almost is time for these Angels to fly on Broadway for the first time in 20 years. It’s an impressive number. It’s an impressive play. And impressive production. But this play, this production is so much more.

When I was slaving over a 100, 000-word thesis on it. It felt like the forgotten masterpiece. In the UK it crashes back through our ceilings about once a decade. And last time, Daniel Kramer’s masterful incarnation stirred feathers, but was no ‘Heaven Quake’. This time around it was the theatrical event of the year for many. And suddenly, my passion project was everywhere. For the first time in a long, long time it felt like the world was paying attention again.

Suddenly, through also virtue of some pretty special actors involved- whether it was for Nathan Lane, Andrew Garfield or Denise Gough your interest was stirred (Special shout out to a subset of theatre Twitter in the James McArdle camp of ‘you have my attention’). All of theatre world was talking about it and it was joyous. Even when we disagreed, even when people still 20 years on couldn’t wrap their heads around Perestroika as the wonderful difficult second child that it is. Even when those who loved the original couldn’t gel with Elliott’s re-writing of the style. It was vibrant, and passionate and intellectual debate. Even those who hated it. But it also felt like London embraced this play once again with the same welcome it had 25 years ago. It felt like it stayed a bit of a worst kept secret, this wonderful creation on the South Bank.

Why does it rip at my heart to see it on Broadway? Because it’s terrifying. And wonderful. All at once.  It’s sending this crystallized, inventive but boundary pushing creation from Marianne Elliott and the National Theatre back ‘home’ to New York. And it feels almost-to use an appropriate idiom- a bloody cheek for a bunch of Brits to be giving it the first Broadway revival. But it also feels bloody good. And a little bit exciting that we know what’s coming.

It is as Prior himself might say, ‘Wonderful and horrible all at once’. This precious thing you guarded for so long, that you fought for (and over- viciously) is now suddenly being once again the fodder of the masses. And as much as you wanted the world to share this thing you love, there’s also a part of you that wants to keep it close, for fear somehow in the sharing it gets ruined.

And it’s wonderful because you want everyone to know just how brilliant, and life changing and exciting it is. (And I have enough of Louis in me to be unable to resist that) But being so close to something, as researching a PhD makes you, it feels horribly exposing. Seeing that thing under such public focus, takes what you’d kept so close to your heart for so long. Because also suddenly everyone has an opinion. And everyone might have an opinion on your opinion, should you dare to say ‘Um actually I know this play better than a lot of people….here I have a thing to prove it.’

And of course on a personal level I’m desperate to write about it and to have a platform to do so- and my heart is breaking a little that, no matter how many brilliant pitches I write, I probably won’t get the platform to do so. And my heart is in this play, and I have more of it in my head than frankly some of the people who step out on that stage. I have ten years of head and heart, and I’m pleading with the Universe to just give me one more chance to share it- More Life once more if you will.

But most of all I’m bursting- with pride and love that this thing I love is soon to be back in the world again.

Seeing those pictures again, I was struck most of all by the sheer force of it. Every time I think I’m back to that colder intellectualism, something takes hold of me again.

And with this production, it feels like us Brits are in on the secret. We know how wonderful it is. What an incredible feat Marianne Elliott pulled off with Tony Kushner’s masterpiece. Even those Americans who saw the NT Live broadcast who think they know, don’t really know the real power of it in person. And that’s exciting to watch happen again.

There is a force of nature to this play. It not only gets into your head, but it is under your skin and takes a hold like no other piece of art ever has. And it is that, that driving, consuming love for it that keeps me writing. And I cling onto that. Like Prior’s ancestors in that boat.

Sometimes you just need a hug when you think about it

And yeah it still can knock me sideways. That’s how I know it’s sincere. That’s how I know I have to keep working. That the  World only Spins Forward.

And I have lots more to say about all that. I hope to say it. I plan to. Somehow.

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Let’s Fly these Angels to Broadway

This post was originally written for my Research Blog reflecting on the announcement of the Broadway transfer of Angels

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So it’s official that the Angels are flying back to America.

Admittedly it was a fairly well known ‘secret’ and admittedly I knew some weeks ago. On one hand that’s what made it easier for me to say ‘I’m fine really’ once Angels closed- knowing it wasn’t a real ‘goodbye’ just ‘farewell’.

So what does it mean really to fly home to Broadway? well for me the NT revival was always the big one. That was ‘home’ for ‘my’ Angels. I’ve always been pretty nerdy about the fact the technical world premiere of the whole thing was there.
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But now, for a British director and (largely) British cast to take that most American of plays back home. That takes some chutzpah- in a really good way. Because America has done productions, in fact it’s almost continually doing them. We do them about every 10 years. And this was the big one- this was the Anniversary one that nearly wasn’t at the NT (it was nearly at the Old Vic fact fans, until Mr Spacey had a change of heart, and thank God he did- just to have it back ‘home’). It was lifting it out of the Cottesloe and throwing it on the biggest stage the NT has, and one of the most difficult stages in London. It was throwing a few actors that had a lot of people scratching their heads about both individually and as a group and going ‘look what they can do’. It was directed by a woman- something we don’t seem to make much fuss about but really really should. Because as a woman who has worked on this play for a long time too, you get a lot of funny looks and a lot of Men telling you that it’s not your place.

Maybe it wasn’t perfect, not for everyone, but it was everything and anniversary production (official or otherwise) should be- it was breaking the mould and rebuilding. And it was big and bold and beautiful, and all the theatrical magic that Kushner wrote in.

And I’m proud you know? I’m proud of that collection of actors, designers, Stage management and everyone else at the NT who brought this beast back to life. Because while it’s just another play, it’s not just another play. It’s one of those rare and special plays, that deserves a rare and special production. So I say take it out there with pride not to show America ‘how it’s done’ just to show them what you can do.

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And there’s a wonderful cyclical nature to it all. That the NT was so intrinsic in giving the original production life, that it should be a part of giving it ‘More Life’ on Broadway.
And for me? well as I said previously, in my long ramble about what all this means to me (here) this will always be “my” production. The one that left it’s mark on my heart. I loved this play with all of my head before this, but this production made it a part of me again. I fell in love with theatre as a Broadway fan girl, I grew up dreaming of The Great White way and the romance and magic of those theatres. It started friendships and a life long pastime with my Mum. Only yesterday Mum said to me ‘I don’t care how we do it but we’ll make it there (to NY) for Angels’. And that’s really the marker of all this- theatre, going to New York, and the PhD have been a family affair for so long, and Angels being tied up in so much New York mythology for me- for us- has been part of that. All of which me to a PhD, which led me to all this.
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Me, my favourite Angel and my Favourite Angels Nerd.
I’d be so happy for any production in New York, but to ‘fly’ it ‘home’ with this production so dear to my heart and that made such an impact, that’s something important.  So in just under a year’s time, when it really is ‘Goodbye’ on Broadway, that feels like a right ending for me.
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To say hello to this Angel the same day as seeing this production on stage is a sight to see.