The Pulitzer-winning Angels in America is divided into two parts, set in the mid-nineteen eighties and following the terrible dawning of the AIDS crisis in America. The first part is entitled Millennium Approaches, and the second, Perestroika.
The play revolves around two couples. Louis is a narcissistic and neurotic Jew, who lives with Prior, a WASP from a historic family that came off the Mayflower.
In the first act, Prior reveals that he has AIDS and has discovered a lesion.
Harper and Joe are Mormons who have fled Utah and Salt Lake City to find anonymity in New York.
Harper has descended into a genteel psychosis caused partly by too much valium, and partly by her suspicions regarding her husband Joe, who is clearly not sexually attracted to her… or any other women for that matter.
Throw into the melting pot a host of angels, hallucinations, discussions on race, democracy and theology, prophets and the apocalypse, and the play resembles the BBC’s epic adaptation of The Gormenghast Trilogy.
Just with neon lime-green eighties lampshades. The extremely fitting subtitle of the play is “a gay fantasia on national themes.”
Angels truly is an epic. Six and a quarter hours long without intervals (although the Lyric provide you with plenty, including a two-hour break between the two halves), the play is totally consuming, and can be exhausting.
After touring the country since April, the play has arrived at the Lyric in Hammersmith.
It is an ambitious play for the Lyric, who aren’t used to stunts such as pyrotechnics, strobe lighting, an abundance of smoke and perches from which angels descend. But they pull it off magnificently.
Scene changes are quicker than lubricated lightning, and props from the last scene are often left discarded around the stage.
This can be poignant; a discarded hospital bed has grave implications for what would otherwise be a cheerful scene.
The actors play a minimum of two parts each, although the multi-talented Ann Mitchell plays eight.
Every actor displays almost alarming versatility, but it can be rather confusing.
Obi Abili causes mirth and giggles as Belize, and is superb despite having just graduated from drama school.
Kirsty Bushell is a vulnerable and irritating Harper, but sometimes shouts too much.
Valium is a downer; does she really have to be so loud? Mark Emerson stars as Prior Walter, and manages to show every glittering facet of the part.
If you’ve got just enough cash for one theatre performance this season, go and see Angels.
With surrealism, special effects, laughs and tragedy, you get more than your money’s worth, and a life-affirming experience to boot.
Angels in America will be showing at the Lyric theatre in Hammersmith until July 22.
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