Sunday, 9 June 2013

Angels in America - Belvoir Street Theatre

In the early 90s, Tony Kushner wrote a play set in the mid 80s, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, concerning reactions to the disease, the mixed loyalties, the politics and the heartbreaks that ensued. It's big, epic theatre, and like all good epics, it concentrates on a small group of people surrounded by outsized events that they can't control. It's a love story, a religious story, a political story, full of grand emotion, humour, and some mindbogglingly moments of theatrical magic. 

This is the second staging of "Angels" I've seen, following Papermoon's January 2008 production. The comparison between the two is surprisingly close, with both having different strengths. But either way, the audience wins. For this production, the design is simple yet cunning - a tiled area that can be cleaned, and into which the various characters can move through and meet and combine. The production respects Kushner's intent that the mechanisms of the magic should be visible and at the same time, the magic should astound - and in the finale of Part I, a combination of sound, lighting and stage effects comes together for something spectacularly brilliant that ... well, you just have to see it to believe it. On a pure spectacle level, it's the grandest thing I've ever seen on the Belvoir stage. Just thinking of the terrifying sound of the wings ... goosebumps. And the simple effect of having the characters throw glitter to show appearances and disappearances from visions is brilliantly delployed, every time showing something about the character - whether spectacular, business-like, or befuddled.

Fortunately, the performances are also incredibly impressive. Amber McMahon's Harper is a combination of great line readings, wide eyes and pure, soulful confusion as the world becomes increasingly incomprehensible. Marcus Graham's Roy Cohn is spectacularly evil, the best I've ever seen him, slithery, demanding, and raging against his inevitable death. Robin Nevin manages to create five different characters each with their own personalities - the quietly confused rabbi, the stern doctor, the adaptable-to-circumstances mother, the matter-of-fact ghost and the ancient Bolshevik. DeObia Oparei is compassionate, funny and brings the rage as the nurse Belize. Luke Mulliins as the hero of the evening is so heartbreakingly vulnerable, angry, passionate, broken, yet ultimately the strongest person on stage. Paula Arundell's gorgeous voice brings forth the Angel in all her glory. Mitchell Butel brings neurosis, an ability to spew forth Kushner's longest and most tangled political polemics, a buttload of guilt and some smooth and stylish dance moves to the incredibly frustrating Louis. Ashley Zuckerman brings Joe's white-bread-all-american-boy charm,  increasing wide eyed as he realises where his inner desires will lead him.

Seven hours worth of theatre may feel like a long stretch but this is plentifully positioned with intervals (only the first act of part II feels a little elongated) and is constantly compelling. Much praise to director Eamon Flack and his production team, this is truly epic theatre done epicly. 

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