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Seven hours simply flies by with Garfield’s life-enhancing Angels

REVIEW

Angels In America

Lyttelton Theatre ★★★★✩

NOTHING saps the will to live like seven hours of theatre. Unless there’s something very special on stage. And as the HIV-positive hero of Tony Kushner’s 1991 two-part juggernaut, former Spider-Man and Hacksaw Ridge Oscar contender Andrew Garfield is very special indeed.

Today’s Trump era seems exactly the right time to revive Kushner’s double bill, set in 1980s, Aids-ravaged New York, when American politics was gripped by a resurgent right led by Ronald Regan.

Yet Kushner’s play transcends its sexual politics. With a somewhat hallucinogenic plot that conjures ghosts, grapples with the holes that most challenge our existence (God-shaped and ozone) and vaults from a scary Earth to a bleak heaven, Kushner’s concerns are for nothing less all-embracing than the human condition.

As Prior, a human whose condition is deep in peril, Garfield superbly deepens the innate self-dramatising gesturing of his character into something genuinely knowing and tragic. His brilliance is matched by American stage star Nathan Lane as the feared lawyer Roy Cohn, the real-life (now dead) villain of the piece who trampled gay rights even though he was secretly gay.

There is also a very strong performance from Being Human’s Russell Tovey as a married Mormon in denial about his sexuality.

Granted, over seven hours (with plenty of breaks) there are passages that even a director as accomplished as Marianne Elliott cannot prevent from drifting. But despite the pessimistic prophecy for mankind handed to prophet-like Prior by the angels, few shows are more life-enhancing.