Angels in America, National Theatre, review: ‘Politically provoking, hauntingly memorable and ultimately life-affirming’

PUBLISHED: 08:30 09 May 2017

Andrew Garfield (Prior) and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Belize) in Angels in America - Millennium Approaches. Picture: Helen Mayba

Andrew Garfield (Prior) and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Belize) in Angels in America - Millennium Approaches. Picture: Helen Mayba


Andrew Garfield, Nathan Lane Russell Tovey star in Tony Kushner’s flawed state of the nation masterpiece, which proves a prescient play for our troubled times

You wouldn’t expect all seven hours of Tony Kushner’s 25-year-old “gay fantasia on national themes” to be compelling, but despite its imperfections, this epic two plays-in-a-day is politically provoking, hauntingly memorable, and ultimately life-affirming.

Set in 1985, the tauter first play captures the pre-millennial mood of impending apocalypse and the grief and rage of New York’s blighted gay community. Inditing Reagan’s neglectful inaction in the face of the AIDS epidemic, it also touches on immigration, religion and the terrible cost of repression.

Ending with the fall of the Berlin Wall Part II’s Perestroika (openess) sorely needs pruning yet its impressive imaginative reach and black humour is often matched by flashes of directorial brilliance from Marianne Elliott.

That lines about the death of liberalism and a new American politics chime heavily with today is compounded by the sweary, abrasive Communist-baiting presence of The Donald’s ex lawyer and mentor Roy Cohn (Nathan Lane on top form).

Closeted Cohn has AIDS, or liver cancer as he insists and, visited by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg whom he sent to the chair but by no-one else, he’s finally also a victim of what another character calls internalised oppression.

His protégée (a slow burn effective performance from Russell Tovey) Mormon lawyer Joe is also in painful denial and the ripples of damage spread to his pill-popping lonely wife Harper (a bitterly damaged Denise Gough) and sexually repressed mother.

Their counterpoint is drag performer Prior Walter, a rivetingly brilliant Andrew Garfield, whose effete affectations mask his fear and vulnerability. Ravaged by illness but ever true to himself he haunts Part Two with his burning desire to live.

Andrew McCardle is the self-pitying, guilt-ridden partner Louis who flees in terror at his illness, while loyal friend and nurse Belize movingly tends both Prior and the monstrous Cohn, underlining the play’s central theme of compassion and human connection.

Ian MacNeil’s revolving, receding set can leave performers marooned in the Lyttleton space. And despite their visually stunning incarnation involving puppeteers and movement artists it’s ironically the Godless titular angels who are most bewildering and obscure. But Kushner’s flawed state of the nation masterpiece proves a prescient play for our troubled times.

Rating: 4/5 stars


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Islington Gazette visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Islington Gazette staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Islington Gazette account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Latest Islington Entertainment Stories

Mon, 16:25

Any body who is anybody will soon walk through the door of The Blues Kitchen’s new basement venue, opening at the end of March

Mon, 15:49

Through the show “we examine how the four walls of the hospitals where people were locked away from society are now being replaced with the four walls of people’s bedrooms, as they have a lack of opportunities for engagement or support.”

Mon, 11:04

Running at L’etrangere in Shoreditch until April 21, CANAN, Paula Chambers, Malgorzata Markiewicz and Su Richardson consider the impact of 1970s feminism on intersectional conversations around class, gender and global inequality

Mon, 10:43

Bridget Galton finds a chilling version of The Scottish play lacks poetry and the supernatural

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Most read entertainment

Show Job Lists

Digital Edition


Enjoy the
Islington Gazette
e-edition today


Education and Training


Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now