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What's On, Culture, Theatre

Angels in America: Millennium Approaches at Oxford Playhouse

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University of Oxford student production company, Happier Year Productions, will present Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches at Oxford Playhouse from Wed 1 to Sat 4 Nov.

“History is about to crack wide open.”

Angels in America: Millennium Approaches is the iconic, Pulitzer Prize-winning first half of Tony Kushner’s Gay Fantasia on National Themes, a complex exploration of homosexuality, love, and loss during the American AIDS epidemic of the 80s.

Prior Walter is a gay man with AIDS, experiencing visions from the heavens as he lies in his hospital bed. Harper Pitt is a neurotic Mormon housewife who is suffering from hallucinations. Their increasing disconnection from reality brings their confused partners, Louis and Joe, closer together. Tension builds, secrets abound, and sexuality is questioned in the pressure cooker that is an increasingly conservative and intolerant America.

In this new production of Tony Kushner’s text, director Andrew Raynes aims to highlight the stories of each individual character, focusing on the smaller roles as well as Prior, using a larger ensemble cast. He said:

‘In the UK in 2023 it feels as though we have lost sight somewhat of the horror and tragedy of the AIDS crisis. Angels in America is a play about a very sick man, dying from a terrible, insidious, painful, disease, and we cannot forget this. In an era of rainbow capitalism, identity discourse, and the commodification and sanitisation of the queer experience, we must remember our history as a community. Not only is the play a moving and complex exploration of queerness and life on the fringes of American society, it also considers those right at the centre of it; the most conformist, powerful characters here are treated equally with the weakest and the most vulnerable – and the delineations between those roles are blurred.”

Grace Gordon, playing Harper, said: “Angels in America is such an important piece of theatre because it is both fabulously tragic and deeply human. It truly feels like Kushner's ode to the queer community, and captures the essence of a time when, for many people, it felt like the world was coming to an end. Come and join us for a night of heartbreak, dark comedy, revelations, relationships, and the hard work of a stellar cast and crew. The great work begins!’

Daniel McNamee, playing Prior, said: ‘Kushner’s characters shock us. They frustrate our expectations and deny the actor the ready-made emotional beats we, along with the audience, have come to expect. The actor, like the audience, is asked to give total faith to the script. The challenge is mighty, and the material is sensitive, but the payoff is unlike any other.”

This production, which features an original score by Madeleine Lay and non-naturalistic design elements, aims to highlight the theatricality and unreality of this play. The design takes inspiration from brutalist architecture to Modernist music, as well as artists who were themselves directly impacted by the AIDS crisis such as Derek Jarman.

Elspeth Rogers, costume and set designer, said: “Working on developing the costumes for this production has been a process of bringing New York, with its many faces, to life. We've had the opportunity to look at how different materials, silhouettes, patterns, and colours reflect and can create the "diaspora city". Constructing the angel has seen the combined efforts of set, lighting and costume teams - this has been fun, as we've been able to play around with reflection and structure, with an emphasis on reflecting the exposed, rugged setting of the city.”

Tickets for Angels in America: Millennium Approaches start at £10 and are available from the Box Office on 01865 305305, or can be booked online at www.oxfordplayhouse.com

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