The hype is real. With a star-studded cast, including the likes of Andrew Garfield, it is no wonder that this is the most highly anticipated theatrical event of the year. But is it safe to say Kushner’s two-part epic – also subtitled “gay fantasia on national themes” – is a theatrical extravaganza like no other, offering audiences the chance to immerse themselves in seven and a half hours of pure, unadulterated theatre. This is like the Theatrical equivalent of a Netflix Binge-watching session of Breaking Bad, except even more glorious. Yes, imagine that.
Set during 1980s New York, Angels offers a glimpse into what life was like in an increasingly Conservative America, where Reagan was in the White House, and the fear of AIDs was rife. Undoubtedly, it is a play that deals with some hard-hitting, gritty themes, and Marrinae Elliot, who previously directed the National Theatre’s War Horse and Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is bold and unflinching in her approach, making this revival fresh.
Making theatre ‘fresh’ is imperative, and this production certainly succeeds. When Kushner wrote Angels, it was 15 years before the new millennium. Now, 17 years after the millennium, globally so much seems to have changed, but simultaneously, and rather sadly, so little.
This revival feels intentionally topical; in our rather godforsaken Trump and Brexit world, a play that tackles themes of immigration, intolerance, homophobia and religious and national values is fairly apt right now. This is a deeply pertinent production on many levels.
And Kudos must be given to the cast, who do a stupendous job of portraying such complex, richly drawn characters. Denise Gough and Russel Tovey play Mormons trapped in a loveless marriage, Tovey playing a closeted man struggling to come to terms with his sexuality, and Gough playing a Valium-addicted wife.
Then there is Roy Cohn – played by Nathan Lane – who is as explosive as the macho, crooked, yet deeply vulnerable lawyer. And of course, Garfield – who is nothing short of magical as Prior Waltor, the anguished man dying of AIDs, and craving to be loved.
With hell-fire erupting from the stage, and angels descending from what actually could be the Heavens, the staging really is as downright bizarrely beautiful as it sounds. Largely, all the scenes take place inside boxes made of neon lit tubes, which is the perfect backdrop for the surreal, hallucinatory nature of the play.
As the stage revolves, and characters can flit between normality and dreams, we can find that one minute, we are in a telephone box in New York, and the next, we’ve seamlessly crossed over to an otherworldly location. Visually, the National has outdone themselves, defying the seemingly unstageable.
This breathtakingly brilliant production is everything you could want from a play, and I urge you all to go and see it. The play stopped running in August, but the next best thing would be finding a way to watch it on screen. This larger-than life production, epic in scope and ambition, is not one to be missed.