I have not written a blog entry since June 2016 and it took something very special to motivate me into re-opening The View From The Hill. My usual tongue in cheek humour (sarcasm as some would call it) has been sidelined. I write about a serious subject and one that recently overlapped very nicely with one of those pastimes that brings the greatest of joy into my life…theatre.
On Saturday 29th July 2017, I entered the National Theatre in London to watch their production of Angels in America. Two plays, almost 8 hours of powerful and moving theatre. The acting talents of Andrew Garfield, Denise Gough, Nathan Lane, Russell Tovey, James McArdle, Susan Brown, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Amanda Lawrence (amongst others) were incredible….but wait, let’s just have the blog entry please Mr B:
I’m not sure there is anything I can write about Angels In America. Certainly nothing that hasn't already been penned by people with more skill and expertise at reviewing theatre than I. There is just one thing I can offer that nobody else can: a personal insight as to why these two plays have been and still are so important to me.
In Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika, just before Roy Cohn dies, (I don't think that’s a spoiler is it?) he is laughing; laughing at his ‘Win’ over Ethel Rosenberg.
As I watched that scene unfold, beautifully played by Nathan Lane and Susan Brown, I couldn't help but suspect that if it were possible, Roy Cohn must be laughing his ass off as he looks up from his grave and sees what’s happening in America today.
Thirty years on, there is evidence that the real Cohn helped shape and mould the present occupant of the White House, but I’m not sure that even Tony Kushner could have imagined characters like Donald Trump and the coterie of super bigots that surround him.
The spectre of Cohn and his ilk also hangs over our own government and the deal they made with a party who espouse some very unenlightened opinions.
So it was with the dark angel of Roy Cohn circling over the Trump presidency and with me sitting only a short walk away from the seat of our own parliament, that I was present in the Lyttleton Theatre, joining an enthralled audience and a company of excellent actors as we revisited Angels in America, Parts One & Two.
I use the word ‘joining’ as it did feel like a joint enterprise in which we were necessary witnesses to the past as it played out before us. It was a long day but I felt we were carried along for what was the best part of those eight hours. Not carried on the wings of angels perhaps, but on the talents of the performers, technicians and those who brought their vision of these great plays back to the National Theatre. It was simply theatre at its very best.
This is where I have to declare an interest though, this is where the personal insight is revealed.
As some of you will be aware, thirty years ago I was part of the Lincoln HIV/Aids Support Group. I saw at first hand just how devastating HIV & Aids could be. I lost friends. I carried the coffin of one of them into his funeral. So this is a story that already had a hold over me.
I also know people living happy and productive lives today, people who are HIV+ and whose prognosis for a long life is much better than we could have hoped or dreamed thirty years ago.
So, with plenty of emotional baggage, I let myself enter the world of the play, the world of the characters (all beautifully played by this mega talented cast) and I laughed really loud and I cried very quietly.
It was not easy to witness the pain and suffering visited on those dying with Aids in the play, even the reprehensible Cohn; not easy to separate this portrayal of reality from your own memories.
Cohn is portrayed, quite truthfully it would seem, as a man who hates others, and he does so with ease and relish.
Thirty years ago the abuse and hatred hurled towards the people I knew (and had grown to love) was just horrendous. It was a real battle to try and change perceptions and to grant these very ill men (I only knew male patients at the time) some dignity.
Physical and verbal abuse, property attacks, broken windows, Police refusing to take action - people being treated as less than human by people who were displaying their own lack of humanity. You may call it fear or ignorance but that is no defence. How can there be a defence when there were many, like me, who decided to try and learn all they could learn about the illness and more importantly the people affected by it?
By the way, we were not angels, we were just people helping someone in need.
Anyway, returning to the present, or rather the past as shown to us in the present, a past so precisely depicted through the words of Tony Kushner in his plays.
There is a speech towards the very end of the play which should resonate deeply within anyone with a social conscience and most certainly should be shouted from the rooftops as well as the stage of the National Theatre.
You might say it is just a political statement from a political play but in a world where some in power enjoy using that power to diminish others rather than raise them up, it becomes a clarion call for decency, acceptance and common humanity.
Prior Walter: “We won't die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come. Bye now. You are fabulous creatures, each and every one…”
To each and every one of you, I commend this play and the thought that the better angels in America, in our world, need to prevail.