Angels in America: Millennium Approaches

Reviewer's rating

I had the great pleasure of seeing a production performed by Oxford University Students last night. I have to praise them for so many achievements with this production. Whatever they lacked in resources and experience they more than made up for in their commitment, intelligence and energy in putting on a difficult, important American play, the first part of Tony Kushner’s epic about the AIDS epidemic and many other problems of America, Angels in America: Millennium Approaches. Whatever the limitations, it was a very involving and strong reading of the play.

If you want to see a professional production, and a very fine one, I think that the National Theatre performance of a few years ago with Andrew Garfield as Prior is still available on one of subscription services. That said, this was a stirring production of the play and my main impressions that I came away with are that the play still have strong relevance today, especially in the world of contemporary LGBTQ+ debates; and also that the acting was completely committed and convincing from every person on that stage.

The text was done with real understanding and clarity as  directed by Andrew Raynes.

My only quibble is that some of the dialogue was a bit hard to hear at times, perhaps a problem with projecting into the acoustics of the Oxford Playhouse. Daniel McNamee was a sympathetic Prior, definitely the central pivot of the play’s story and themes, and he certainly elicited sympathy with his sensitivity and anguish as his illness progressed. He also got a few laughs with his cheeky responses and witticisms. The troubled couple, Joe and Harper, were completely engaging with their problems as played by Grace Gordon and Aravind Ravi. The hallucinations, the somewhat mystical surprise scenes like the one where Prior and Grace turn up in each other’s dream, were performed with complete conviction and held attention so strongly that there was no room to question the metaphors or symbolism – it all seemed clear and natural so that the elements, the strange voices, the angel, made the elements of Magical Realism of the approach simply blend into the more naturalistic scenes and the harrowing and very real history of the AIDS epidemic.

I liked Immanuel Smith as Roy Cohn a lot, though he could not quite overcome being far too young for the role. I suppose this is the problem of undergraduate productions – everyone in the cast is clearly roughly the same age whatever age they are supposed to be as characters. But the acting was good enough to let the audience use its imagination to accept the age and class differences in the story. The playing was a little weak on conveying the dark humour of the text, but the impact and seriousness of the drama was fully on display. I liked Will Shackleton’s troubled, struggling Louis and Maya Robinson in her multiple roles as the Rabb,. Hannah and Ethel Rosenberg. Indeed, everyone on the stage was strikingly good. Another strong element of the production was the music by Madeleine Lay. If you have never seen the play, this is an intelligent introduction to an iconic text of American theatre of the late 20th century.