Angels in America - Part II: Perestroika
Citizens Theatre Company, Headlong Theatre and the Lyric Hammersmith
Northern Stage, Newcastle, & Touring
After an introductory diatribe from "the oldest living Bolshevik", the relevance of which does not become apparent until much later in the play, Perestroika starts where Millennium Approaches finished, picking up the stories begun then and continuing them, but with an added layer: the Angels, hinted at (and briefly heard) in the first part, then make their appearance. There's just one to begin with, hailing Prior Walter as "the prophet" and, eventually, revealing the truth behind creation and the fact that God has gone away. Later we see all seven: the Continental Principalities of Oceania, Africanii, Europa, Antarctica, Asiatica and Australia join our original Angel, America.
Are they real or figments of Prior's disease-fuelled imagination? As well ask is the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg who haunts Roy Cohn real. Or Mr Lies of the International Order of Travel Agents who carries Harper off to Antarctica. Silly question, because they are yet another means which Kushner uses not just to explore the private hells of his characters but to set them against the wider ills of Reagan's America, and - wider still - the ills of humanity.
For although the play (both parts) is about sexual (in the shadow of AIDS) and familial relationships in a very specific location, Brooklyn, it is also about greed and corruption, morality and ethics, the destruction mankind inflicts on itself and the world, fear for the future, uncertainty, religion and belief - the intellectual and emotional journey Kushner takes us on is as epic as the play itself.
And yet after all this Kushner finds resolution, hope for the future: "You are fabulous creatures, each and every one," concludes Prior. "And I bless you: More Life. The Great Work begins."
The structural complexity of the piece is amazing, as are the technical accomplishments of director Daniel Kramer, designer Soutra Gilmour, lighting designer Charles Balfour, costume designer Mark Bouman and sound designer Carolyn Downing - not forgetting the technical team at Northern Stage who had to work the show.
In the hands of a lesser director, creative team and cast, this could become a turgid mess, but they don't put a foot wrong!
V Mitchell reviewed Part I "Millennium Approaches"
"Angels" runs in Stage 1 at Northern Stage until Saturday 26th May, and then goes on to Cambridge Arts Theatre (29 May - 2 June), The Lowry in Salford (5 June - 9 June) and the Lyric, Hammersmith (20 June - 22 July)
Reviewer: Peter Lathan