It’s been 20 years since playwright Tony Kushner won the Pulitzer Prize for his masterwork, Angels In America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. Ten since director Mike Nichols brought the story to life in a jaw-dropping HBO miniseries.
But for director Eamon Flack, the man at the helm of Belvoir’s ambitious staging of the six-hour two-part play, nothing’s come close to Kushner’s epic tale of love and death in mid-80s AIDS-affected New York since.
“This play is still, a generation after it first happened, the only truly great play to have emerged from this era. No other contemporary play comes near being able to talk about this world we’re struggling with. As we deal with this peculiar sense that we’re reaching a sort of deadline as a species, I knew this was the play to look at that,” Flack told the Star Observer during a break in rehearsals.
Doing justice to the mammoth two-part production (which will be presented as two individual plays running concurrently through the season) has been a massive undertaking for Flack and his all-star cast, who include Mitchell Butel, Marcus Graham, Robin Nevin and Ashley Zukerman.
“We’re rehearsing six hours of theatre here. You start working and then forget where you began… it’s been six weeks of intensive rehearsals already. The size of the whole undertaking forces you to acquire a whole lot of qualities that I think Kushner is really interested in; qualities like open-mindedness and inventiveness and patience,” said Flack.
Particularly since, before transferring to the grander Theatre Royal in July, Flack and his team will have to convey the fantastical elements of the production in the more intimate confines of the Belvoir. How exactly does one hoist an angel to the rafters in such a small space?
“It’s not possible – you can’t fly a person in the theatre in Belvoir. So those qualities that Kushner likes, inventiveness and cunning, really have to practiced for this production,” he said.
“It was originally written for very large stages, so it’s interesting that its having its initial home on the stage at Belvoir and then going on to the scale of stage it was originally envisaged for.”
The Theatre Royal season extension came about thanks to unprecedented public interest in Angels In America – something Flack confessed he was doing his best not to think about.
“It’s one of those plays that many people have a sense of ownership over, but we can only work if the sense of ownership is amongst us in the room. We have to listen very carefully to the play, and not to the expectations.”
And interest in the production didn’t just come from the public. As word spread months ago that Belvoir would be mounting a new production of the modern classic, actors across Australia clamoured to audition.
“I think it was the most leaked show I’ve ever experienced; everybody wanted to be in it. The play hadn’t been done for a generation, so it was clear there was this younger generation of actors who were ready for these roles now.”
INFO: Angels In America, Belvoir St Theatre May 28 – July 14, Theatre Royal July 18–28. www.belvoir.com.au