Angels in America (NT Live)

I confess I had never heard of Angels in America by Tony Kushner before the National Theatre production was announced, but after reading the hype around it I decided to see what all the fuss was about at the NT Live screenings.

It is in many ways a difficult play to describe, but put simply it is the story of 5 characters living in New York in the mid 1980s during the AIDS crisis and a conservative Reagan administration. It explores a myriad of themes, including life, death, love, sex, heaven and hell. The fear and uncertainty surrounding AIDS and homosexuality in entrenched throughout the play and shown through the experiences of many characters. Roy Cohn (Nathan Lane) rejects the label of homosexuality as he states that homosexuals have no ‘clout’. The married Mormon Joe Pitt (Russell Tovey) is unable to accept that he may be gay, and Louis (James McArdle) cannot cope with supporting his longterm partner Prior Walter (Andrew Garfield) when he is diagnosed with AIDS, and leaves him. Although thankfully in many ways things have changed for the better for gay people and those living with HIV, but unfortunately the fact that there is a Republican administration in the White House at the moment who has recently banned transgender people from serving in the military means that the play is still relevant today, not least because Roy Cohn was Donald Trump’s legal adviser.

The production itself was fantastic. All of the actors’ performances were stellar, particularly Andrew Garfield. Nathan Lane also managed to make me feel slight sympathy for such a detestable character. I also thought the staging was great, especially the revolve when switching scenes, and when the set was pulled back during one of Harper’s (Denise Gough) hallucinations to reveal the huge Lyttleton stage. The way the angel was moved around the set by ‘phantoms’ was also very clever.

As for the play itself, I’m unsure. There were things I loved about it but others I’m undecided about. I’m sure in a way the fact that the play has such a hype around it played against it because I was expecting to be completely blown away. First of all I felt it was too long, although in fairness to this production it did not feel long at all when I was watching. However, during some scenes I did wonder what they were adding to the play, such as the opening of Perestroika (part 2) with the oldest living Bolshevik. I was also confused by the angels, and especially felt that Prior’s angel’s explanation of how God abandoned them was explained clearly enough.

However, it is a play that has stayed with me and I have found myself thinking about it a lot after seeing it. I have also enjoyed listening to some of the National Theatre’s podcasts with some of the cast and the director, Marianne Elliot. I definitely would like to read it, as being such a wordy play it was easy to miss some things when watching. The play itself may not have blown me away, but the production and performances have meant that in some ways it has stayed at the forefront of my mind for a while. I’m definitely glad that I went to see it.

 

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Jane Eyre – Wales Millennium Centre

I first saw this National Theatre production of Jane Eyre at an NT Live screening and I enjoyed it immensely, so when I saw that the national tour was coming to Cardiff I knew I wanted to see it again ‘properly’ in a theatre rather than a cinema.

Although I knew what to expect this time it didn’t spoil my enjoyment. The set isn’t what you’d expect for a production of Jane Eyre at all. It’s fairly bare, with many climbing frames, ladders and wooden planks which are used extremely effectively to convey the different locations as well as Jane’s varying emotions. I also liked the soundtrack which included some original music but also some contemporary songs such as Mad About the Boy and Crazy.

The cast is small with everyone apart from Jane (Nadia Clifford) playing multiple characters including Mr Rochester’s dog, Pilot. All the performances were strong and convincing, with some particularly quick role changes.

It’s a funny and emotional production, which stays very close to the novel by Charlotte Bronte, and I love that some dialogue from the novel was used. I do feel however that it is too long. I know that when it was originally performed at the Bristol Old Vic that it was in two parts, which were cut down to one part before going to the National Theatre, but I feel some further small cuts would have been beneficial, as the first half in particular is very long. However, this was an innovative and engaging production and I’m glad I saw it for the second time.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Wales Millennium Centre

The National Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been a huge success since it opened at the Cottesloe Theatre in 2012. It has won Olivier Awards, moved to the West End (where it closes this month), opened on Broadway, won a Tony Award and embarked on 2 UK national tours. I have seen this production a few times, through NT Live and also in London and when it visited Cardiff previously. It is without a doubt one of my favourite things I’ve seen on stage.

It is based on the 2003 novel by Mark Haddon, which tells the story of a boy called Christopher, who has Aspergers Syndrome, as he sets out to solve the mystery of who killed the dog next door. One of the clever things about the production is the way that it presents Christopher’s inner monologue. Christopher talks to the audience but his teacher, Siobhan, also reads extracts from the book that he is writing, and there are also a few instances of breaking the fourth wall.

Another innovate element of the production is the way it overwhelms the audience’s senses so that we have an idea of how Christopher feels when he goes outside his comfort zone, such as to the train station or on the tube. Lights, projections and loud sounds are used incredibly effectively.

The ensemble in the production play several different characters such as Christopher’s neighbours and passengers on the train or tube. In this production Lucianne McEvoy played Siobhan, and Scott Reid was fantastic as Christopher.

The fact that I’d seen the play before did nothing to wane my enthusiasm for this production. Very funny but also emotional. Brilliant.

As You Like It (NT Live)

As You Like It is one of my favourite Shakespeare comedies, it’s full of romance, funny characters and it has a rather silly plot. Last night’s NT Live showing from the Olivier Theatre did not disappoint.

The set in this production was very impressive and extremely clever. The opening scenes of the play set in the court were in an office. I wasn’t overly sure about this at first, especially during the wrestling match, as it didn’t seem to fit. However, when the setting was transformed to the forest of Arden, the tables and chairs were lifted up by strings to form the trees and shadows. It was excellently designed by Lizzie Clachan but I kept thinking that it must be a nightmare to reset all the furniture again for the opening scenes! There was also a small choir, who were sat one some of the chairs and sang some forest animal sounds, spookily during the first half. In the second half, they created more positive and musical sounds, particularly to show the love at first sight between Celia (Patsy Ferran) and Oliver (Philip Arditti). Although this was effective, at times I felt it was a little distracting from the dialogue, particularly when they were making bee like humming noises. This may only have been relevant when seeing it at the cinema as I’m guessing they were miked, it might not be as loud or obvious when watching in the theatre.

Rosalie Craig was an excellent, strong Rosalind, and the chemistry between her and Ferran was brilliant. Having listened to a podcast interview with them both earlier in the week, where they discussed that the play is as much about love between friends as it is romantic love, this was evident in their performances. I also really liked Joe Bannister as Orlando, making him a nervous but extremely likeable character. One of my favourite moments in the play will sound strange, but it was during a scene between Touchstone (Mark Benton, very good) and the shepherd, when the rest of the cast were pretending to be sheep. It was much better and funnier than it sounds!

My slight criticism of the play is going to be about the music, but I am being quite harsh. I last saw As You Like It a few years ago in Stratford-Upon-Avon with the RSC where the music was composed by Laura Marling. I left the theatre humming the songs and subsequently bought the soundtrack. The songs in this production weren’t particularly memorable, and although the dance scene during the wedding at the end was fun and entertaining, 24 hours later I have no memory of the song at all. However, overall this was an enjoyable production and I definitely would like to see more of Rosalie Craig and Patsy Ferran on stage.