Wednesday, 19 July 2017

'Angels in America: Millennium Approaches' at the National Theatre

I went to see both parts of 'Angels in America' at the National Theatre a couple of months ago and was so impressed that I immediately signed up to be part of the monthly ballot for tickets and was lucky enough to be one of the winners. So last night I went to see part 1 again, 'Millennium Approaches' on the Lyttelton stage. Until I saw this production a couple of months ago I'd never seen the play or the film and knew nothing about it other than it dealt with HIV/AIDS in the '80s. It was nice to see it again, this time with some knowledge of the plot and characters.

'Millennium Approaches' is set in New York in the mid-80s and is all about beginnings and discoveries, love and betrayal, as we're introduced to the characters and see them interact. Prior Walter, the latest of that name in a line going back to the Norman conquest of England, discovers he has HIV and tells his boyfriend just before he goes to bury his grandmother. Louis, the boyfriend, can't handle illness and leaves Prior when he's taken to hospital after a particularly bad night. Coincidentally, he works at the same court as Joe, a closeted and confused Mormon whose wife, Harper, takes too much valium and has hallucinations. Joe also knows Ron Cohn who is also closeted but has had sex with men for years who knows everyone in power and swears like a trooper. Thankfully there are also characters like Belize, the nurse in Prior's hospital who is also an old friend, to lighten the load.

There's a swirling play of tales within tales and characters having random conversations that somehow take the play forward. It's so well written and performed that you hardly notice this play is three and a half hours long - it certainly didn't feel it. It's a great ensemble piece with all the actors playing multiple parts, from the rabbi at the start played by Joe's mother, Prior playing the leather queen in Central Park who lives with his parents servicing Louis and characters also playing Prior's ancestors on their hallucinatory visits to warn that the Angel approaches... or, are they hallucinatory?

The further we get into the play the more there are questions about reality and hallucinations. Harper has hallucinations from the start because of her valium intake but we then get drawn into Prior's hallucinations - are they from the drugs he's taking or are they real? Harper get's transported to Antarctica, which we know isn't real, but are Prior's hallucinations of his ancestors real? Are they really predicting a visitation from an Angel? It seems they are since the Angel crashes into Prior's life just as the lights go off at the end of the play. It's all terribly dramatic and I loved the effects.

I thought that all the actors were excellent and the production as a whole is excellent. It totally won me over. It's directed by Marianne Elliot (not Poly Styrene I hasten to add) who deserves kudos for her work on this. Andrew Garfield and James McArdle play Prior and Louis, Russell Tovey and Denise Gough play Joe and Harper, and Nathan Lane and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett play Ron and Belize. All were thoroughly good and caught us up in this strange world from 30 years ago.

Looking forward to seeing part 2 next week!

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