Tag Archives: Nathan Stewart-Jarrett

“Angels in America” at the National Theatre

Any production of Tony Kushner’s masterpiece is a cause for celebration. Presented in two parts, totalling nearly seven hours, and combining the AIDS crisis with speculation on America’s history and its future, epic is an apt word. Add the stellar cast and it’s hard to be inured to the hype surrounding this revival on the Southbank. The difficulty of getting tickets, plus ecstatic reviews and a sense of responsibility towards the play, whose premiere at the National Theatre in 1992 is fondly remembered, create palpable anticipation. And the production is superb – a theatrical event – even if it struggles under the weight of expectation.

James McArdle (Louis) and Andrew Garfield (Prior)
James McArdle (Louis) and Andrew Garfield (Prior)

For unmitigated praise we can begin with the cast. Andrew Garfield plays Prior Walter, who reveals his HIV status at the start of the play to his boyfriend, Louis (James McArdle), who promptly deserts him. Both grippingly portray their relationship breakdown – McArdle does a great job creating sympathy for his unlikeable character. As Prior’s health deteriorates, Garfield takes the lead with a combination of dignity and no-nonsense that perfectly reflects the text. When it comes to Prior’s encounter with angels – and in this play they are real – the juggling of fear, amazement and humour is superb.

Denise Gough (Harper) and Russell Tovey (Joseph)
Denise Gough (Harper) and Russell Tovey (Joseph)

Another couple in trouble are the Pitts, two Mormons living in a sham marriage. Russell Tovey plays Joseph, tortured by his sexuality, with sensitivity. An affair with Louis comes as a revelation to him and fills the theatre with tenderness, while the betrayal of his wife, Harper, is moving and complex. It’s another triumph for Denise Gough, as the pill-popping spouse whose religious background and secretive husband are driving her insane. There’s that Kushner combination again – of humour and self-awareness – that Gough reveals expertly. Someone should save us all time and hand her another Olivier award now.

Nathan Lane (Roy Cohn) and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Belize)
Nathan Lane (Roy Cohn) and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Belize)

A final duo deserves a mention: Broadway legend Nathan Lane, who brings a startling humour to the role of closeted lawyer Roy Cohn, and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as his nurse Belize. Their sparring matches, as Cohn lies dying of AIDS, are a highlight. Stewart-Jarrett impresses throughout, excelling as a foil to Prior and Louis, and deftly carrying the weight of Kushner’s concerns over racism.

Angels in America is hard work, especially if you are lucky enough to see both plays on the same day. It isn’t trying to be easy, of course: the emotional journey taken by its many characters is harrowing, but the scale and scope of ideas needs controlling and the fear is that director Marianne Elliot has herself become overawed. There’s not enough “mangled guts” here – the play’s visceral text, so full of struggle, is sanitised as a ‘classic’.

Connections between the characters, clear enough in the script, become laboured. There are few light touches, literally so when it comes to Paule Constable’s lighting design, which dominates Part One in particular. A claustrophobic feel, pinpointing scenes in spotlight, is presumably to create focus, but the result is soporific.

It’s not the play’s length that is the problem – the plotting is impeccable – but the pacing, which flags. The main culprit is a cumbersome set by Ian McNeil, with props moved around by a collection of ‘Angel Shadows’ who become distracting. This choreographed troupe does stronger work as skilled puppeteers with the arrival of The Angel (the always superb Amanda Lawrence). But even here their scenes feel protracted. Elliot’s reverential air brings us down to earth, even if most of her production is heavenly.

Until 19 August 2017


Photos by Helen Maybanks

“The Pitchfork Disney” at the Arcola Theatre

The Arcola’s new production of Philip Ridley’s The Pitchfork Disney marks the play’s 21st anniversary. It’s a study in terror, which might lead us to speculate whether our collective fears have changed in texture over the last two decades. Ultimately Ridley deals with such basic, and base, themes that his work remains alarming and powerful.

Under Edward Dick’s faultless direction, Chris New and Mariah Gale are remarkable as Presley and Haley – pill-popping, chocolate gorging twins with a psychotic bent. Agoraphobics who wallow in their piteous existence, they tell stories to each other not just for escapism but to perpetuate their trauma.

And what stories, hypnotically poetic, ruthlessly insightful and grotesquely overblown as they are. The cast revel in the telling, with New especially adept in bringing out the morbid, humorous edge. His Presley peeps through the letterbox, looking at the real world but describing his imagined apocalypse.

When the door to this disgusting flat is opened, inviting in a “pretty boy and a foreigner”, we start to see connections between their fantasies and what really exists. Cosmo Disney has a thought-provoking story of his own, and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett’s performance in the role is captivating. He damns the twins as “ancient children” and mocks mankind’s desire for a “daily dose of disgust”, making his dissecting analysis more like a vivisection.

Disney is a performer and Stewart-Jarrett preens to perfection, with a cabaret trick of eating cockroaches. But The Pitchfork Disney doesn’t just curl toes – it surprises. When Disney’s fellow performer Pitchfork arrives, it is into a bizarre, spooky and fantastic scene that doesn’t deserve a plot spoiler. Presley’s nightmare starts to come to life and they play’s conclusion is truly desperate.

If people such as these exist, they surely don’t get this weird without something happening to them. Ridley never offers us a specific reason and his play is so full of themes that the mind boggles. In this way, he leaves us to examine our own fears of “freak accidents and freaks” – and that of course, is truly scary.

Until 17 March 2012


Written 2 February 2012 for The London Magazine