I thought I knew this play. I knew it on paper from reading and studying it at university. I remember love and pain during the AIDS crisis. Set in New York in the mid-1980s, we follow several men and women suffering or affected by AIDS. The play tackles some very big themes and need time to do it. Therefore, this play of two halves is over seven hours long; part one running at three and a half hours, and part two running at over four hours. With this time, something many of our characters don’t have, we are invested. We live with these characters and experience the highs and lows of life and death, love and lust, friendship and more. Here are the three stories:
Prior Walter is fabulous. He watches friends his age die from the disease they share and he wears colours and moans and teases. This is the face he chooses to wear while his body starts to show the signs of AIDS. Prior is played by Andrew Garfield, better known for his work on screens than stages. He got into a little trouble earlier in the year for not expressing himself in a politically correct way. He done his research and he blows us away. I would say he was the stand out star if the cast wasn’t full of them such as James McArdle as Louis. Louis is Prior’s cowardly boyfriend who couldn’t watch him die. With time, we feel sorry for him. Even if he makes selfish choices such as a passionate affair with a married man.
That man is Joe Pitt, played by Russell Tovey. A straight mormon with a paranoid wife: Harper Pitt played by Denise Gough. He tries to do the right thing but he’s got a devil on his shoulder. Roy Cohn is a lawyer who can do it all and has it all. Roy is played by Nathan Lane. I know Nathan Lane’s talented. He sings and dances in The Producers, he’s hilarious. This is not a hilarious play, although it had it’s moments. For me, Nathan Lane stands out. This is his show. He’ll defy all expectations. From the furious pitbull on the phone in part one to the dying stubborn old man in part two.
This production is flawless. Thanks to the kind of cash the National Theatre must have, everything was possible. There are some parts in the play that are bonkers and even the playwright admits they might not be possible. During one of Prior’s states of delusion a book on a column rises from the floor and bursts into flames before returning to the ground. Not to mention THE angel. It wasn’t enough to tackle the AIDS crisis, we have to tackle the heavens themselves. Prior thinks he is a messenger, a message given to him by an angel in his bedroom late at night. I told you it was bonkers. Everything about this pay is epic: cast, costumes, set, words, plot. Like the Angel, it must be seen to be believed.