THEATRE REVIEW: Angels In America (Parts 1 and 2)

WORTH A LOOK?: *****/****

WHERE: National Theatre

WHEN?: 29/4/17, runs to 19/8

Today’s two-plays-in-a-day extravaganza will be much appreciated by those who enjoy bingeing on their favourite TV boxsets.

  • Read on for reasons including why Andrew Garfield is the outstanding star of this

Angels In America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, to give it its full title, works best here in its first part Millennium Approaches.

Garfield plays Prior Walter, who discovers he has AIDS and is then deserted by his boyfriend Lew (James McArdle, almost as good as Garfield in a far less sympathetic role) who can’t stomach the difficulties the illness brings.

Garfield is simply astonishing and utterly believable as the flamboyant drag queen at the heart of the story who begins to have visions which may have ramifications for the rest of the world.

Elsewhere, Nathan Lane plays Roy Cohn, a cut-throat lawyer, and we meet him in his office in an unforgettable scene where he is juggling many phone calls. Here we learn not only that he is two-faced but also his enthusiasm for musical La Cage Aux Folles, a detail the star of its film version The Birdcage delivers with relish.

Cohn is mentor to Joe Pitt (Russell Tovey giving us great sensitivity) a closeted Mormon Republican married to troubled wife (Denise Gough having a little more fun here than her most recent breakout role in People, Places and Things).

Director Marianne Elliott initially gives us a stage with three revolves as the lives of the main characters’ intersect in unexpected ways.

Less successful is part two, Perestroika, where Prior’s visions are explained and author Tony Kushner’s ambitions for his story take flight into the realms of fantasia mentioned in its full title.

There’s talk of the merits or otherwise of migration and also the dangers of withdrawing government investment from public services. Although set in New York in the mid to late 80s, there’s much material here which will ring true with many of the debates that we’re having now over 30 years later.

The intersected revolves of the staging of the first part are lost in part two where we have rain, a set rising from the National’s bowels and a focus on rectangular-lit blocks with little scenery. The trick works well when concentrating the action on a gigantic stage and contrasts well with the puppetry that augments the many visits of an angel.

It loses a star for us because of the ridiculousness of the story. Otherwise, this is a phenomenally-acted and beautifully realised version of a much-loved sprawling epic which has as much to say to us now as it did when it was written in the 90s.

  • Picture by Helen Maybanks via Facebook courtesy National Theatre. Tickets
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