Image courtesy of Bedlam Theatre.
Angels in America
Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, released in 1992, confronts the Aids epidemic and the devastation that lay in its wake. This is exemplified in the stories of five principal characters whose lives are intertwined as a result of sexuality and illness. Bedlam’s student theatre group, used to tackling weighty subjects, does a magnificent job under the direction of Liam Rees in an unabridged adaptation of the script.
The play hops between storylines, most of which eventually interlink. Mormon couple, Harper (Emily Deans) and Joe Pitt (Andrew Hally), struggle with her mental illness and his homosexual tendency. Couple, Louis Ironson (Rob Younger) and Prior Walter (Brooks Hudgins), fight with Prior’s Aids diagnosis and what that means for the longevity of their relationship. Closeted lawyer Roy Cohn (Peter Morrison), based on the real man, fights HIV whilst insisting that he suffers from liver cancer as a means of protecting his reputation. The lives of these individuals are all affected by the changing world as the pace quickens to the turn of the millennium. Nothing is now certain.
It is unsurprising to find, from the quality of the outcome, that Waverly Care, a charity that provides support to those who suffer from Aids, helped to give the actors some insight into the condition to help their understanding of such a hefty text.
Director Liam Rees chose Brechtian techniques to bring the text to life. Actors spend the duration of the show onstage, changing outfits in plain view of the audience; multiple scenes and exchanges take place in the same space. The fourth wall between actor and audience is broken on several occasions as characters converse facing the audience, involving them in the conversation. The set was executed to a better standard than most of Bedlam’s shows – large paper wings, hung above the stage, were lit from behind, creating a highly satisfying effect.
It is fair to state that decisions regarding the casting of the play were well made. Each actor fit perfectly into their given role; even performances which started at a lower standard than others were more than redeemed by the final curtain call. Actresses Erica Belton and Meera Muñoz Pandya both took on multiple roles, fulfilling each of them with elevated skill. Actress Emily Dean played the character of Harper with conviction and fragility.
Rob Younger depicted Louis Ironson’s pain with sincerity. Best of all however was Brook Hudgen’s interpretation of Prior Walter. His was not just the performance of the play but likely one of the strongest performances Bedlam has seen in some time. Hudgen’s enactment was nuanced, considered, and gentle. So measured was his acting that it would almost be better suited to the world of film; the audience was, at times, robbed of the ability to see the sincerity of his facial expressions or the quieter elements of his vocal range.
This was one of those plays that got better and better as the actors became engrossed in their character’s lives. There are so many scenes worthy of note that it is difficult to pick just one. From the brave sex scene in the park to the heart-wrenching last dance between two lovers: this play delivers. It is worthy of high recognition.