Thursday 7 September 2017

Angels In America review

If you're going to stage the critically acclaimed Pulitzer Prize winning work, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, you'd better hope that your vision will do the play justice. Fortunately, this stunning production presented by Cameron Lukey and directed by Gary Abrahams will leave audiences completely absorbed in this breathtaking seven hour epic show.

Written by American playwright Tony Kushner, Angels in America is set in two parts, entitled Millenium Approaches and Perestroika. The story isn't the most straightforward to describe, taking place in a world somewhere between reality, dreams and hallucinations and includes interaction between humans, angels and ghosts, but it's near impossible to not become invested in this examination of AIDS and homosexuality in America during the 1980s as we predominantly follow the relationship between two gay men in New York, Louis Ironson and Prior Walter, and the various people who intersect their lives.

Angels in America has such complexity in its structure with quick emotion-charged scene (and world) changes, and with actors often playing numerous characters, but Abrahams pulls it off fabulously. He has achieved absolute perfection in his casting of such a formidable group of actors, leading to some of the strongest performances I have seen all year.

Simon Cornfield finds a great balance of self-absorption and vulnerability to Louis, who walks out on his boyfriend shortly after he is diagnosed with AIDS. Cornfield shares brilliant chemistry with both actors his character has relationships with, Grant Cartwright as the dying Prior and Caleb Alloway as closeted Mormon Joe Pitt. The relationship dynamics between Joe and Louis is particularly intriguing to see unfold from its initially happy beginnings to its eventual disintegration. Cartwright is tested both physically and emotionally with this role and he unreservedly excels in it. His scenes where he converses with the spiritual beings and their various guises are engrossing to watch, as is his contemplation of his own mortality.

Emily Goddard is simply astonishing as the agoraphobic Harper, Joe's long-suffering wife. There's a fragility and bravery in every scene she is in and in each word she speaks, and her performance is rightfully demanding of our attention. Goddard's scenes with Cartwright are magical, full of hope and sorrow as they draw strength from each other. Brian Lipson as the self-loathing homosexual Roy Cohn painfully displays his downward spiral as he succumbs to not only AIDS but also to his resistance in being honest to himself.

Helen Morse as Joe's mother Hannah brings a softness to her stoic demeanour through subtle actions or utterances of a word. However, it's as Ethel Rosenberg where she creates a nuanced lasting impression by just being present in the space. Dushan Philips has a charisma that is impossible to beat as the nurse with attitude Belize, but makes sure he remains grounded and honest. Margaret Mills as The Angel and a few other characters, shows great versatility and commitment to be able to swap between these vital roles.

The stripped back set design works wonders in the space at Fortyfivedownstairs and Dann Barber's drop sheet curtains that reveal certain parts of the stage at any given time play with the idea of the unknown and that the stories - and the lives - depicted are continuing behind these closed curtains. The main set piece is a wooden four-poster bed, and it has such a presence throughout that it almost becomes its own character by the dramatic effect as it is wheeled on and off stage and how it is utilised.

Rob Sowinski and Bryn Cullen's lighting design adds immense depth to the stage, where despite the relatively small spaces in which scenes often play out, there is still a sense of the vast expanse of this world. Their play with shadows and darkness throughout builds on the intimacy of the play while heightening the melancholy, despair and fear that is felt by the characters. Russell Goldsmith's sound design is highly evocative and find its way deep inside you, reverberating against your soul. 

Angels in America is a highly affecting piece of theatre that captivates you from the very first scene right until the lights go up - and even then, it is difficult to walk away from the experience. It expects a lot from its audiences but what we get back from this talented cast and crew is threefold. Angels in America is a beautifully tragic yet hopeful story to lose yourself in and marvel at. To put it simply, this is heavenly theatre that deserves to be seen.

Venue: fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Season: Until 24 September

Tickets: Single tickets: Premium $55 | Full $48 | Concession $42
              Two Show Pass: Premium $95 | Full $85 | Concession $75 
Bookings: fortyfive downstairs
Performance Schedule:

Thursday 7 September 7:30pm – Part 1
Friday 8 September 7:30pm – Part 2
Saturday 9 September 3pm – Part 1
Saturday 9 September 7:30pm – Part 2
Sunday 10 September 2pm – Part 1
Sunday 10 September 6pm – Part 2

Wednesday 13 September 7pm – Part 1
Thursday 14 September 7:30pm – Part 1
Friday 15 September 7:30pm – Part 2
Saturday 16 September 3pm – Part 1
Saturday 16 September 7:30pm – Part 2
Sunday 17 September 2pm – Part 1
Sunday 17 September 6pm – Part 2

Thursday 21 September 7.30pm – Part 1
Friday 22 September 7.30pm – Part 2
Saturday 23 September 3pm – Part 1
Saturday 23 September 7.30pm – Part 2
Sunday 24 September 2pm – Part 1
Sunday 24 September 6pm – Part 2

Photo credits: Sarah Walker

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