Review: Angels in America

Sophie Williams 27 February 2013

Angels in America

ADC Theatre, Tues 26th – Sat 2nd, 7.45pm

Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize winning Angels in America is first-rate, constantly urging you to care about something, anything, everything. Although the play deals with the gamut of life’s major issues – politics, sexuality, AIDS, race, mental health – each is given enough space make its impact felt. Hugh Wyld’s production does the play justice.

As per Kushner’s playwright’s notes, the stage is presented in a “pared-down style”; the black boards being painted white made me almost forget I was in the ADC Theatre and worked particularly well during the hallucination scenes. Rarely are dream/hallucination scenes convincingly pulled off on the small or silver screen, much less on the stage, yet the all-white environment and exceptional use of music transport you to the limbo world in which several of the play’s characters find themselves. The play often verges into the surreal but it always makes sense. As Charlotte Hamblin’s homeless woman professes, “In the new century I think we will all be insane.”

The most frequent visitor to Dreamland is the Valium-addicted Harper, played by Hellie Cranney who, despite the fact that I have now seen her play the wife-whose-husband-has-a-marriage-destroying-secret three times (once just last week in Haggard), is brilliant and her portrayal of a woman with serious mental issues refreshingly avoided caricature. Special mention must go to Paul Adeyefa, excellent in wildly divergent roles as ex-drag queen Belize and Harper’s “imaginary friend” Mr. Lies.

All performances, however, are impressive and the production joins the ranks of recent highly polished ADC mainshows. There are no obvious weak links, though Holly Marsden was given the roughest deal in having to multi-role, twice as male characters requiring us perhaps too often to suspend our disbelief. She truly came into her own, however, in her small role as Ethel Rosenberg, the Jacob Marley figure for the ruthless Roy Cohn, played by Max Upton, who was utterly persuasive as a ruthless lawyer. People we may find questionable are given worthy treatment: we egg on Joe’s (Julian Mack) journey of self-discovery despite (or perhaps because of) him being, shock horror, a Republican Mormon.

The emotional crux of the play is undoubtedly the tragedy of Louis and Prior, heartbreakingly played by Guy Woolf and Jack Mosedale respectively. Louis, caring so much about people in the abstract (often waxing lyrical about justice and democracy), cannot find the strength to support his partner through his illness. Woolf brings the essential warmth to what could easily be a highly unsympathetic role. It isn’t all doom and gloom, however: scenes of Prior’s illness are punctuated by comic appearances from Prior’s English ancestors, played by Mack and Upton.

This play is only the first of two and, for this reason, it did feel a little incomplete, so I hope that the ADC Theatre stages the second part at some point. The exuberance of the final scene alone will make you beg for more.

Sophie Williams