One of the most anticipated shows of 2017 has landed at the National Theatre this week. Angels In America, a gay fantasia on national themes, has a star studded line up and at seven and a half hours long, it’s a real commitment. But does it live up to the hype?
The great thing about shows like this, being performed in two parts (3.5 hours and 4 hours each) is that the audiences tend to want to get involved. You don’t get your McDonalds eating, chatty tourists, annoying you because this isn’t a throw away show, its a full day of emersion.
Angels In America starts out well, with a real political message that everything in life is decided by politics. Being gay was illegal until 1957 because politics and the law decided it was wrong. AIDS was seen as a dirty disease because politicians told us it was (Margaret Thatcher tried to ban the Aids Prevention Campaign, claiming it was “unnecessarily explicit information”). This is a crucial message in the show that some things in life are only wrong because we have decided they are over time.
But when angels start to appear at the end of sick people’s beds, telling them they are the chosen profit to take the Mormon’s golden plates back up to heaven for them, things in the show get a little bit weird. A man, sick with aids, penetrates an angel from his hospital bed, twice, for no apparent reason and things just become bizarre.
Angels In America feels like two completely different shows and unfortunately for me, the serious subject matter (which is beautifully told) of the AIDS epidemic and the political corruption of the world, gets pushed to the background of the show in favour of flying angels and trips to heaven on a neon ladder.
The cast of this show are phenomenal. Denise Gough (one of the greatest actors we have had in a long time), Nathan Lane (one of the greatest actors of all time and who gives the stand out performance in this show), Russell Tovey (who shows he isn’t just a pretty TV actor and really delivers a superb performance), and Andrew Garfield, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and James McArdle, who are all incredible and at the top of their game.
Angels In America is brilliant. But it doesn’t need to be anywhere near as long as seven and a half hours. Cut the show in half. Make a gay fantasia play full of flying angels and Mormon stories and then make a serious, hard hitting play about a corrupt lawyer who can make anything he wants happen in the world because he ‘knows people’. The latter is the play I would watch again, the rest was brilliant in its own way, but dampened the importance of the rest for me.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Photo: Helen Maybanks
Angels In America is playing at the National Theatre until 19 August 2017