Angels in America - Part One: Millennium Approaches

Tue 26th February – Sat 2nd March 2013

reviews

Lauren Hutchinson

at 15:13 on 27th Feb 2013

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‘Millennium Approaches’, the first part of Tony Kushner’s Multi-Award winning theatrical masterpiece ‘Angels in America’ was praised as the ‘most thrilling American play in years’ and ‘one of the most important pieces of theatre to come out of the late 20th century’. The play tells the interlinking stories of several individuals living through the 1985 AIDS crisis is New York. Needless to say, engaging theatrically with the serious social issues presented throughout is challenging, but achieving this while consciously maintaining naturalistic dialogue and convincing, believable relationships scattered with light humour and surreal hallucinations… seems impossible? I wouldn't have thought before seeing this production that amongst imagined snow, falling on an Antarctic dreamscape, between a folk dancing medieval northerner and a psychotic homeless woman, I would actually CARE about any one character’s story. The cast of Millenium Approaches proved me wrong with their versatile, moving and in some cases, faultless performances.

Every member of the cast shone at one point or another as the story unfolded, though the depictions of those living with AIDS were the performances which showed the most characterisation and the most convincing emotion. From the moment Max Upton delivered his first lines as closeted, power-hungry lawyer Ray Cohn the audience were in the palm of his hand. His effortless cool and convincing vocality eased into his deeper, manipulative and ultimately tragic character. Upton’s portrayal of Cohn was as unsettling as it was intriguing- a very different role from any I had experienced him in before, this performance ultimately cements Upton as one of Cambridge’s finest straight actors.

Continuing the praise of those conveying a life changed forever by AIDS, Jack Mosedale would be thanking the academy for this one. Mosedale’s charming and astute interpretation of Prior Walter immediately made me feel like his best friend. I laughed and anguished and hurt with him as he was brutally and unabashedly dragged through the deterioration of his own body and mind. Mosedale’s fearlessness in his complete surrender to the role of Prior is to be applauded, though I do urge him please to eat a big mac or five after the run is finished!

Each actor blended admirably into their multiple personas, but no ones ability to do this was as seamless as that of Charlotte Hamblin who impressed despite her smaller roles. I felt more could have been given from Marsden in her portrayals of Hannah and Ethel, as her beginnings as the Rabbi were so promising. Some scenes suffered from audibility problems due to ambitious staging and as a result a few key lines were swallowed in the void behind the proscenium arch. The scene changed and limited all white set looked professional and transferred between each characters world effectively. However, what felt like constant flying in and out of the gauze upstage, symbolising a transference into vision or hallucination, was ultimately distracting and could have been easily rethought. Tom Rasmussen should also be credited for Paul Adeyefa’s superb costumes as Belize and Mr Lies.

Overall, the first half of Angels proved much more engaging and impressive than the second half, which it could well have done without and still been a success. The cast for the majority of their performances, accessed and utilised a delicate balance of comedy and tragedy, which did however at times fall victim to the comedic at what seemed like the trivialisation of the tragic.

Angels in America- Part One: The Millennium Approaches is undoubtedly, along with the likes of The Vagina Monologues, one of the most important and affecting theatrical events in this year’s calendar. For that and some stand out performances, Angels should not be missed.

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