Review: Angels in America Part 2, Perestroika (Lyttelton Theatre)
Updated: Jun 10
Wait a moment whilst I adopt my deep, booming narrator voice. Here we go. Last time, on Angels in America: Louis left the dying Prior in an attempt to save himself from emotional torment, Joe abandoned his wife and mother, and Harper lost her last remaining marble. Now the groundwork has been laid, I want to see how these characters will navigate their newest conflicts, and whether the production will do them justice. Given the sheer magnitude of the play, there is room for magnificence and catastrophe.
Though, there was never any real doubt about the performances. Garfield’s timing and movement are impeccable and prove him an extremely skilled actor beyond anything I could have expected from what I have seen in film and television. It is interesting how he incorporates the mannerisms of a gay stereotype without showing any disrespect or disparagement. James McArdle also puts in a fantastic performance here, able to show greater variety than the previous instalment allowed, and he felt far more relatable here. The extent of the quality of performance and direction can be found even with the integration of stage hands. Clothed in black and grey, they slink around the stage like spiders moving things, adjusting things, even during a scene they are present providing an eerie atmosphere in a humorous scene. It is an inspired touch that blends into the design and feel of the performance.
Designer Ian MacNeil takes a slightly different approach here, choosing greater use of stage with few characters and using far fewer set pieces and props. Whilst on the surface this sounds boring it brilliantly conveys the isolation of the characters, and because there is such great variety between each scene that was slightly lacking in the first part, it really is a feast for the eyes. We move from the icy Antarctic to a hospital bed to heaven, before you have time to consider the awe-inspiring angel. Even the details have been carefully created, such as the leopard print on Belize’s shirt. In many ways, it’s almost a slide show of examples of stage design done right. The direction too is improved upon here, with tension arcs creating poignant moments as easily as comedic ones and flows each scene very neatly.
This is impressive for a play of this nature. “Angels in America” is a collection of monologues and poetry held together by a thin thread of narrative, and it takes time to get used to, and is unavoidably baggy at times as I said. However, in this instalment, the beauty of the production and performances are enough to overshadow that, and I felt that the production was giving more room to appreciate the wonderful text. Though there are still sections that feel unnecessary – the conclusion felt very elongated indeed – director Marianne Elliott delivers on capturing the grandeur and ambition of the play without losing its intimacy. After some thought, I think that it is worth watching this show in its entirety. It won’t be for everyone, it strays far from the realms of traditional plots and comfortable conventions, but if you can appreciate theatre in its rawest form done to an outstanding standard, the seven and a half hours of “Angels in America” await you. Four stars.