Angels in America: Millennium Approaches

Mar 10 2016 | By More

★★★★☆   Intense

Bedlam Theatre: Tue 8 – Sat 12 March 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

Emotional honesty and genuine skill make Angels in America: Millennium Approaches at the Bedlam extremely successful.

Tony Kushner’s 1991 play is the first half of his epic study of personal and political crises around the early days of the AIDS epidemic in 1980s New York.

A scene from Angels In America with (left to right) Meera Muñoz Pandya as Belize, Brooks Hudgins as Prior Walter, and Rob Younger as Louis Ironson

Meera Muñoz Pandya (Belize), Brooks Hudgins (Prior Walter) and Rob Younger (Louis Ironson). Photo EUTC

The subtitle, A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, has particular overtones that might strike some as dated. However, the treatment of those perceived as ‘different’ has sadly not altered so much in the interim, while the belief in American exceptionalism shared by characters of all political stripes here still seems to be a major issue in current US politics.

As forbidding as this all sounds, it is nonetheless extremely accessible, not least because the use of short scenes featuring separate but interconnected stories gives it the texture of soap opera. This is reinforced by the melodramatic nature of some of it, if not by the use of frequent fantastic elements.

There is certainly an emotional rawness to the performances that makes them immediate and believable. Prior Walter, whose discovery of a Kaposi’s sarcoma lesion at the opening introduces the subject of AIDS, is played by Brooks Hudgins with honesty and directness. Unfortunately, his lines are delivered so quietly on occasion that they are rendered inaudible.

Rob Younger, as Prior’s partner Louis Ironson, brings a rounded complexity to his performance. Andrew Hally, as Joe Pitt, the Mormon lawyer struggling with his sexuality, embodies the character’s conflicts very effectively.

considerable verve and energy

Roy Cohn, the real-life lawyer and former associate of McCarthy who remained deeply closeted and backed anti-gay legislation, is played by Peter Morrison with considerable verve and energy. If he never quite convinces as old enough and tough enough, he has a commendable stab at it.

Andrew Hally (Joe Pitt), Emily Deans (Marin) and Peter Morrison (Roy Cohn). Photo EUTC

Andrew Hally (Joe Pitt), Emily Deans (Marin) and Peter Morrison (Roy Cohn). Photo EUTC

No such quibbles about Emily Deans as Joe’s agoraphobic, valium-addicted wife Harper, whose pain comes out in such apparently unprocessed form it is difficult to watch at times.

While most of the cast have more than one role, there are two performers in particular who take on multiple parts. Erica Belton’s strident Hannah, mother of Joe, and Meera Munoz Pandya’s sinuous, hallucinatory travel agent Mr Lies are particularly impressive but both prove themselves extremely versatile.

The overall standard of performance is remarkably high, with the contrast between those for whom the necessary accents come naturally, and those who have had to work harder, appearing extremely small.

honesty and care

The infrequent lapses in believability are more than outweighed by the honesty and care displayed in the production as a whole. As Kushner suggests, the artifice is clearly displayed, with the cast onstage throughout, rails of costumes for character changes clearly visible, and scenery kept to an effective minimum.

The absence of blackouts, with scenes differentiated by changes in lighting and position, is deftly handled. Throughout, director Liam Rees is confident and clever enough to let the material and performers shine without unnecessary gimmickry.

Since this is only the first half of a larger work – ending on a cliffhanger of serious proportions – there is a danger of feeling shortchanged at the close, particularly after sitting for over three hours in the icebox that is the Bedlam. However, this is emphatically not the case here, and it never seems too long.

Indeed, the predominant feeling is disappointment that the second half is not following soon, which is testament to the bravery and accomplishment of the production as a whole.

Running time 3 hours 5 minutes (including two intervals)
Bedlam Theatre, 11 Bristo Place, EH1 1EZ
Tuesday 8 – Saturday 12 March 2016
Daily at 7.30pm
Full details and tickets on the Bedlam website:

The production supports Waverley Care
and LGBT Health and Wellbeing


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