A commentary and resource on Law and Sexuality by Professor Chris Ashford and guests
Excellent news for British Sky subscribers. The wonderful HBO adaptation of Tony Kushner’s play, Angels in America is to be broadcast on the Sky Atlantic channel from Monday 12 December.
At the age of around 13 or 14 I visited Manchester Contact Theatre on a school trip. My childhood had been a game of two halves, an idyllic first few years followed by varying degrees of misery until I left for sixth form and probably the five happiest years of my life. An unhappy and bullied child, the visit to Contact theatre was a moment when I was suddenly surrounded by people that seemed to ‘get me’, and who I could relate to. When I look back, they probably saw the scared gay kid and reached out.
We had a look around, messed around, created a structure that had to survive a wind machine (as you do) and someone who was part of the studio talked to me about Angels in America. To this day, I don’t know why, I can’t even remember the gender of the person. I just know it happened. I picked up flyers on my way out and put myself on their mailing list. Theatre seemed an exciting world of possibility and something that was alien to my working class background. It seems silly now, but flyers for Beautiful Thing and Angels in America excited me, and drew me in – and were a powerful connection to a complex sexual identity at a time before the Internet meant you could reach out to millions via your phone.
So, this play has always been special to me on a personal level. When I finally read the play (it’s actually two plays) and watched the HBO production, it blew me away. Music to make your spine tingle, actors whose performances affect you like never before and a script that will touch your soul. The epic power of the play, the wondrous use of language, it’s utterly brilliant. The play is now commonly used in schools, particularly in the USA to examine issues of sexuality and HIV, and it many ways it has less power than when HBO first adapted the play for television but it remains potent.
That said, whenever I’ve used scenes from the mini-series, or play extracts with my students studying human rights law or law and sexuality, there has always been at least one person who is so moved, so touched as to go out and buy the DVD set. At least one who is so touched, so excited by this visual feast that they have to come and talk to me about, have to share their thoughts and responses. It gets under your skin. So, if you’ve not yet seen it, please do. If you like it, read the play as there are some sections not in the series, but other than that, the series is true to the original script. I won’t spell out the full story, as I think it’s best to approach the series with a fairly blank canvas, but it is set in an 80s America with the Reagan presidency in the background; AIDS is in full swing and a famous US lawyer – Roy Cohn – appears in a semi-fictionalsied form in this production (played by Al Pacino). Check out the original HBO trailer below.