Angels in America

Theatre, Drama
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
(12user reviews)
 (© Helen Maybanks)
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© Helen Maybanks Denise Gough (Harper) and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Mr Lies)
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© Helen Maybanks James McArdle (Louis) and Andrew Garfield (Prior)
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© Helen Maybanks Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Mr Lies) and Denise Gough (Harper Pitt)
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© Helen Maybanks James McArdle (Louis) and Andrew Garfield (Prior)
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© Helen Maybanks Denise Gough (Harper) and Russell Tovey (Joseph)
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© Helen Maybanks James McArdle (Louis) and Andrew Garfield (Prior)
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© Helen Maybanks Andrew Garfield (Prior) and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Belize)
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© Helen Maybanks Andrew Garfield (Prior)
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© Helen Maybanks Russell Tovey (Joseph Pitt)
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© Helen Maybanks Russell Tovey (Joseph), Nathan Lane (Roy M Cohn) and Denise Gough (Martin Heller)
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© Helen Maybanks Nathan Lane (Roy M Cohn) and Russell Tovey (Joseph Pitt)
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© Helen Maybanks James McArdle (Louis) and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Belize)
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© Helen Maybanks Andrew Garfield (Prior) and Amanda Lawrence (Emily)
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© Helen Maybanks Denise Gough (Harper)
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© Helen Maybanks Amanda Lawrence (A Homeless Woman) and Susan Brown (Hannah)
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© Helen Maybanks AndrewGarfield (Prior),James McArdle (Louis), Russell Tovey (Prior 1)and Nathan Lane (Prior 2)

Andrew Garfield gives an astonishing performance in Tony Kushner's hallucinatory masterpiece

Tony Kushner's landmark 'Angels in America' is a mad, eight-hour quasi-religious 'gay fantasia on national themes' that was written in response to – amongst many other things – the AIDS epidemic that was still raging upon its UK premiere at the National Theatre a quarter of a century ago.

It now stands as a canonical classic, probably the great American play of the late 20th century. But it rarely get staged, for the simple reason that the enormously long, enormously arch, symbol-drenched magical realist epic (it is in fact two long plays, 'Millennium Approaches' and 'Perestroika') borders on the unstageable. This revival, from 'Curious Incident...' and 'War Horse' director Marianne Elliott, is the NT throwing everything it has an a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

The acting company is RIDICULOUS, the sort of ludicrous confluence of talent that impresses simply for the feat of harmonising their diaries, even before we've seen the acting.

I'd never been quite sure from his films whether erstwhile Spider-Man Andrew Garfield was anything special, but on stage he is absolutely stupendous as the sprawling show's nominal focal point Prior Walter, a waspish WASP who contacts AIDS, is hospitalised, gets dumped by his boyfriend Louis, and is then visited by a horny angelic bureaucrat that wants him to become its prophet. Garfield steams into the part with savage wit, burning intensity and total commitment - it is a weird, taxing, hilarious role, and he owns it, the best thing here, one of the performances of the year.

James McArdle is great as the infuriating Louis, a sensitive, moralistic liberal derailed by his almost fanatical self-absorption. Major Broadway star Nathan Lane devours the scenery gloriously as vicious, closeted lawyer Roy. Russell Tovey brings a touch of everyman innocence to confused Mormon Republican Joe. The incomparable Denise Gough makes everything a lot weirder as his drugged out, volcanically angry wife Harper. And Nathan Stewart-Jarrett is wonderful as Belize, the flamboyant black nurse who perhaps marks the only sane member of the bunch.

But does 'Angels in America' in 2017 represent anything more than a starry folly? Clearly some of the context has changed, especially regarding AIDS. But even so, the play was always looking back (to the Reagan era), and in its strange, half magical world the specifics of the characters' fears are not entirely important. Elliott's production - with a remarkable, flexible set from Ian MacNeil - is suffused with rumbling existential dread, a sense that some catastrophic event is just over the neon streaked horizon. In 2017, it feels entirely in tune - its press performance came on the day Republicans voted to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act, and its view of an America fractured along lines of gender, race, wealth and political outlook has scarcely dated.

Moreover it's not just about politics, but the audacity of its form. Its doomy, sardonic surrealism remains quite unlike almost anything else: it’s as much a trip as a drama. There is a constant WTF factor to brilliant scenes that could be their own plays and almost feel like they’re being lobbed out of Kushner’s imagination on shuffle: you could cut the wonderful scene in which Lewis jabbers through a long, spectacularly ill-advised monologue on race relations to Belize, or the scene in which a wasted Harper and Prior freak out over an animatronic Mormon family, or the angry monologue from 'the last living Bolshevik’, and not really alter the core story, but it would be a lot less weird and fun.

What Elliott really brings is efficiency and discipline, the master general’s power to marshal and guide innumerable elements, to allow the audience a route though the boundless wilds of Kushner's imagination. We may not see this play again for a decade or more, and Elliott and her team have not wasted their shot at it.

'Angels in America' is sold out, but there will be five special ballots held to distribute more tickets for the run. See the National Theatre website for more details.

Posted:

Average User Rating

4.7 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:8
  • 4 star:4
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
LiveReviews|12
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Tastemaker

Absolutely magical, especially the first part: you most definitely don’t fell the 3/3.30 hours each one of the part lasts. Three different stories are beautifully intertwined in the difficult moment in history that was the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. The acting is superb, Andrew Garfield and Denise Pitt being hypnotic – the scenes where they meet in a group hallucination are beautiful and funny and sad, all at once. Definitely one of the best plays I’ve seen in the National Theatre.

tastemaker

'This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won't die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come...You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you: More life. The Great Work Begins.'

Prior Walter, played by the oh so talented Andrew Garfield in this production of 'Angels in America'


Angels in America at the National Theatre is a beautifully written, perfectly cast, laughter inducing and tear jerking performance. It commemorates those who died in the 1980s and after, because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and those that were not accepted and recognised under the Reagan administration. It celebrates homosexuality, love and above all else what it means to live and survive. It reminds us that the 'Great Work' is not yet over and why it is that we still must sadly stand-up, speak out and march.


The combined running time of the two-part performance is a whopping 7 hours and 45 minutes but you will come out having no idea where that time went. It must only be a production of about 10 people and only a hand full of them are then even audience facing with the rest playing beautifully choreographed and haunting background roles that largely manage the show's bigger props and the arrangement of the staging. There are times where you will be scratching your head thinking 'hang on - what the hell is happening here?' but in time it all begins to piece together and flows seamlessly. 


Every single cast member deserves an award for their portrayal of some pretty complex and emotional characters, but no one more than Andrew Garfield who portrays the central character of Prior Walter, the man who weaves each of the 3-4 minor plots into the overarching story. Given the theme, it goes without saying that this show is very upsetting and draining but the way it is written ensures that you do get a constant supply of perfectly timed and relieving comedy too. 


I left both parts feeling as though I'd been punched in the stomach yet craving more. I second that of the earlier reviews in saying I could not recommend this show more and if there was one piece of theatre you should see this summer, it is this one, but word on the street is tickets are running low so act fast to avoid disappointment!





tastemaker

Every once in a while a show comes along that picks you up, shakes you around and then dumps you back down, leaving your opinions moved and your mindset altered from where it had been 7 hours and 40 minutes previously, (the combined running time of parts 1 and 2.) Angels In America is quite honestly epic, both in the scale of production but also the 'national themes' that it covers. It barely ever let's you come up for air.

Andrew Garfield plays Prior Walter, a camp, intelligent and witty character. We see his slow decline in health due to contracting HIV. This is played out with the backdrop to the Reagan administration who did nothing to help sufferers until it was to late. I couldn't help but chuckle to his withering one liners whilst he's dealing with the prospect of his own mortality. A credit to both Garfield's portrayal, and Tony Kushner writing. Garfield is not the only well known face amongst the cast, with the likes of Nathan Lane, Russell Tovey and Denise Gough displaying equally stellar performances. Big shout out to Susan Brown for her incredible multiroling skills.

If you only go to see one play this summer make sure this is it, though the way tickets are selling like goldest and day queues from 4am, you'd be lucky!

Tastemaker

Angels in America is ambitious. It has huge universal themes. It is an awe inspiringly big production. The set is amazing. The direction is wonderful The cast is astounding and their performances are excellent. It is a grandiose, one off theatrical experience. If you can get tickets, you should go!

Tastemaker

Seven and a half hours is a long time; it’s a typical working day, the flight time to New York, or the amount of time I found myself sitting in the National Theatre over two nights last week to watch the hotly anticipated revival of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. And while seven and a half hours will make your bum a little numb, this was easily some of the best theatre I have ever seen; Angels in America is an absolute whirlwind of outstanding acting, brilliant choreography and characters which grip you from the first line to the last.

The main reason that many people cannot get tickets for this two-parter for love or money is the stellar cast line up; Andrew Garfield, Nathan Lane, Russell Tovey and Denise Gough, all who gave master classes in acting throughout the both plays. Nathan Lane was equally venomous and charming, and played his AIDs inflicted descent with sublime skill. Andrew Garfield was almost unrecognisable as Prior, an ex-drag queen also suffering from AIDs. Long gone was the gawky teenager who swung from buildings in chase of a green goblin; Garfield was beautiful as Prior, making us laugh at his sassiness and our hearts break at his relatable desire for love after rejection. I could not fault any members of the cast, who all gave excellent performances and really engaged the audience with their characters; we actually cared about their fates once the curtains had fallen.

 A bit of a spoiler here, so do not read on if you want to keep the surprise! However, I could not write this review without mentioning the stunning puppetry and choreography which, when combined, created the angel which burst through Prior’s ceiling at the climactic ending of part one. The movement was amazing, mesmerising yet disconcerting at the same time. The team of ethereal spirits which lifted the actress up into the air, swooping around the set and beating her glorious wings deserve every recognition.

This show is epic. At moments, it is intense and word heavy, but the direction allows these monologues or long, quick fire conversations to be engaging rather than dragging. The set in the first part, revolving semi-circles which encased each scene, showed how all these characters and stories which at first seemed separate, all connected and linked together. All aspects of this show were terrific- try the lottery as this is easily London’s play of the year.

tastemaker

The thought of sitting through a 3.5hr theatre show daunted me somewhat and I was concerned that I'd find this play too intense, too serious and far too long.  However, the time just flew by as Part 1 was an absolute gem.  The cast are brilliant without exception.  And yes, the subject-matter is serious, but there are so many laughs along the way that it doesn't feel too much.  This is one of the must-see shows of the year and you should get tickets if you like the theatre and seeing meaty plays.  Can't wait for Part 2 - only a month to go...

tastemaker

I was fortunate enough to see both parts of Angels in America on one day, and I've never experienced a piece of theatre quite like it.


The performances are uniformly brilliant, but Andrew Garfield's incandescent Prior Walter was a stand-out for me. The design-work is typical of the National Theatre's world-beating standard, and the direction ensured that the production sparkled with vibrant, desperate life.


It is difficult to believe how quickly 7 hours 40 minutes of theatre can pass, but it flew. At no point did the production drag: its life and pace ensured that I stayed with it every step of the way.


Do what you need to do to get tickets for both parts: you will likely never get to see anything of this scale and grandeur again.

Tastemaker

I have been waiting for a good part of my life to get a chance to catch the acclaimed Angels in America at some point, and I constantly count my blessings for having scored tickets to both parts. Watching both in a single day sounds like a bit of a marathon, but in reality, it's no more tiring than binge watching a really short tv miniseries, and it's testament to the amazing cast that manages to pull this off and Marianne Elliott's pacing that keeps our attention rapt throughout. 


Each and every one of the cast members is amazing, but kudos goes out especially to Nathan Lane, undoubtedly MVP of the night as the love to hate/hate to love Roy Cohn, an evil bastard to the very end, as well as Denise Gough, who made Harper both amazingly sympathetic and yet imbued her with a quiet, fiercely independent strength that kept us rooting for her. Of course, many of the audience members came for Andrew Garfield, who though overwrought at first, quickly settled into his unlikely hero as a flamboyant ex-drag queen, easily finding his way into our hearts while milking his lines for all they were worth. James McArden and Russell Tovey had especially strong chemistry onstage, and as a personal fan of Tovey, I was pleasantly surprised at how much stage time and um, exposure he received. 


Taking cues from Brecht's Epic Theatre, the set transforms from an easy setup of three revolving sets to an empty space of possibilities, and there are some truly inspired directorial decisions thrown into the mix. The way the Angel was portrayed for example, was something straight out of a Lady Gaga Born This Way-era music video, and Elliott manages to balance Kushner's camp humour with sobering truths in this pretty much perfect production. Undoubtedly one of the best things I've seen on the London stage, or in fact, ever, try your luck with the Angels Ballot and by hook or by crook, watch this show!!!


This is THE play you must watch this year. Hilarious, moving and utterly earth shattering. The main cast is unbelievably good, especially Nathan Late, James McArdle and Andrew Garfield. The supporting cast is impressive. One of the best plays of the last few years, unmissable.


Utterly mesmerising throughout. Andrew Garfield, Denise Gough and the rest of the cast are amazing - such detail and intensity to their performances. And it's funny! Important and memorable.


Sublime. Garfield and Gough deliver performances of rare beauty, dignity and depth. With so much drivel in the West End at the moment, ahem Don Juan and The Philanthropist, it is heartening to be reminded that there are actors and writers who aspire to more than lining their pockets and strutting their egos. Do anything to get tickets to what must be the theatrical event of the year.

Tastemaker

This is an epic production of a modern classic. I saw a very early preview of both parts so it was a little bit too long, but it's such a rare chance to see this important play that all is forgiven! A clever set and some heavyweight performances make this one of the must see plays of the year.