Back in 2008 I was introduced to the play Angels in America. I was at University and we were having to study it and perform a segment of it as part of an assessment. I was immediately struck by its honesty and heart wrenching writing. Myself and others in my group looked up the NBC series starring Emma Thompson and Patrick Wilson. I devoured the whole series in about a week. It was also good research for putting on the performance. I was actually stage manager rather than acting in it but it was such a great time.
Roll on 9 years and Angels in America was announced as being part of the National Theatres season. The cast was also announced and included Andrew Garfield, Nathan Lane, Russell Tovey and Denise Gough. As you can imagine tickets were sold out in minutes but they also announced that they would be screening it to cinemas thanks to NTLive.
So roll on last month and I went to see both parts which were 1 week apart. The first half was about 3 hours long with an interval punctuating it after every hour. It did not feel that long at all and I really mean that. I have seen films only 90 minutes long which have felt longer! It was just so engrossing and the performances from all of the actors just so so good. It is difficult to put it into words. The second half was longer at 4 hours and the first part alone was 1hr 40 minutes. The second and third parts were just a little over an hour. Again it just started and grabbed you by the throat and did not let go!
The basic premise of the story is about relationships, AIDS and homosexuality. If you are easily offended then I would not recommend going. If gay scenes offend you then ditto. But its not really about being gay or straight. This is about love, finding yourself in society, illness and how you cope with the thought of losing someone you love. It is also about the fear of dying, of not being the person you want to be. Its about life. Life in the 80’s granted but watching it you feel that sadly in some respects not a lot has changed in some peoples attitudes towards this disease and peoples sexual orientation. The actor Nathan Stewart-Jarrett who plays the nurse Belize is phenomenal. The closeted gay lawyer Roy superbly played by Nathan Lane initially takes offence to being treated by him due to the colour of his skin. He is also lying to everyone that he has AIDs instead telling friends he has liver cancer due to his position in his workplace and being ‘in’ rather than ‘out’. As he gets sicker and sicker and has fits and hallucinations he realises that all of his prejudices mean nothing when you are dying. He needs the nurse to help him whether he likes him or not – which in the end he does.
Andrew Garfield brilliantly playing the lead Prior is open with his AIDs diagnosis and is openly gay. His relationship with his partner Louis played by James McArdle seems solid but when the sickness hits Louis can not cope and leaves him. Prior starts hearing voices and an Angel visits him to show him the way – not to death but life.
Russell Tovey plays a married man Joseph, who is secretly gay but has not acted on it. His wife beautifully portrayed by Denise Gough is struggling to conceive and is doped up on drugs so is also hallucinating. Joseph falls in love with Louis and explores his sexuality with him.
There are lots of laugh out loud moments, crazy scenarios, sad and upsetting scenes. It is a complete ride and you come out exhausted and exhilarated and with your head and heart racing. All of the actors deserve awards for this outstanding production as does the director Marianne Elliott. How they performed this night after night and both parts in a day is beyond me – I am in awe. Its finishing this month. Beg, borrow or steal a ticket if you can.
I loved it and wont give away the ending but suffice to say it left an impression.
Video and photo courtesy of National Theatre website.