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15th November 2011

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes

Review-Angels in America – Part One: Millennium Approaches at MMU’s Capitol Theatre

Five out of five stars

From this production is it easy to see why Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes is a popular choice for drama students. Tony Kushner’s ambitious 1993 play allows actors and directors to bring to the fore the nuance of the text’s many different strands. The cast of this student production at MMU’s Capitol Theatre have taken advantage of this and produced an engaging and intelligent piece of theatre.

Kushner has light-heartedly described his writing style as being like a lasagne “All the yummy nutritious ingredients you’ve thrown into it have almost-but-not-quite succeeded in overwhelming the design”. Although set in the 1980’s, Angels in America engages with concerns of the 1990’s. Kushner tries to make sense of the racial, sexual and class divisions that exist in America, “The melting pot where nothing melted”, and suggests that in the 90’s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the AIDS epidemic, it is essential that America comes to understand itself in a different way.

The dark-heart of the play is lawyer and staunch republican Roy Cohn, played here by Lucas Smith. Cohn, a repressed homosexual who discovered that he is dying of AIDS, symbolises the false-certainty and hypocrisy of the Reagan-era. Smith’s Cohn is smug and brash at the same time as still being immensely angry and more or less inhuman. The performance is not subtle but it provides much of the production’s energy and force. Harper, played here by Amy Cameron, the valium-addicted housewife is a depiction of quieter desperation. Cameron gives a strong performance, showing the character as being deeply frustrated but also having the capacity for optimism.

The staging is rapid and artificial, embracing the text’s Brechtian qualities and providing a more satisfying interpretation of the play than a non-theatrical adaptation, such as the big-budget HBO miniseries, will ever be able to.

While they were written and first-performed separately, it is a shame that this production does not bring together the two parts of Angels in America. Although the seven-hour running-time may have been a challenge in Capitol Theatre’s painfully uncomfortable seats, it would have been fantastic to see the same group of students sink their teeth into the other piece of Tony Kushner’s modern classic.

Angels in America – Part One: Millennium Approaches ran at the MMU Capitol Theatre between 12th-15th October. 

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