There are some nice little ironies around Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, now showing at London’s National Theatre with cinema presentations later in the month.

Although it is about AIDS, it contains many lacerating comic one-liners. One character, a black nurse, says towards the end, “The white cracker who wrote the National Anthem knew what America sounds like. He set the word ‘free’ to a note so high nobody can reach it.”

The play is billed as a “gay fantastia on national themes” and it is set in New York (with short scenes in Salt Lake City and San Francisco). In reality, the influences stretch to Israel, Germany, the Soviet Union, and England. The black nurse is called Belize, and the same actor plays a travel agent.  Dialogue is in English, French, and German. There is also ome Hebrew and Aramaic.

The subject matter is grounded in one of the major current affairs stories and health crises of the late 20th century but the play delves into dream sequences and the supernatural.

The part of Joe Pitt, the closeted Mormon by-the-book lawyer, was played in the 1993 National Theatre production by Daniel Craig, currently better known for playing Britain’s most celebrated lady killing assassin.

At the end of the first play, Part 1, Millennium Approaches, the lead character Prior Walter faces a dramatic moment referenced by the title with the words “Very Steven Spielberg.” Tony Kushner would go on to write two screenplays for the director, Munich and Lincoln.

The subject matter is the stuff of nightmares but dreams loom large throughout. At least one of the scenes was written directly inspired by one of Kushner’s own dreams. Part II, Perestroika, is dedicated to Kathryn Flynn, Kushner’s intellectual mentor, whom he helped nurse through a long illness. Even though one man’s name is on the title, and the production features a Hollywood leading man in Andrew Garfield, it is a very collaborative venture.

The plays run for seven and a half hours (really) but few if any scenes (there are 67) outstay their welcome. The sprawling madness also has method as the characters interconnect, with all the cast playing at least two parts.

This helps explain what has made it such a magnet to actors. ‎The latest production is Andrew Garfield’s first job since being nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for Hacksaw Ridge, and it is his first stage role since Death of A Salesman on Broadway for Mike Nichols. Garfield is excellent in this production, as is James McArdle (fresh from David Hare’s version of Platonov in Chichester), and Russell Tovey, and Nathan Lane, making his South Bank debut as Cohn. Mike Nichols’ TV adaptation attracted Jeffery Wright, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson. The original National production, as well as Craig, featured Jason Isaacs, Claire Holman and Henry Goodman.

You might call Angels in America Wagnerian, except Kushner’s interest in family fissures is closer to another Germanic influence. His hero is Bertolt Brecht. There are nods to Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare as well as Milton too.

The chief villain of the piece is an interpretation of Roy Cohn, a closeted lawyer who was fearless except when he told the world of his ”liver cancer”.

Kushner’s version of Cohn is a monster, a dealmaker, a bully. The playwright admits of his profile that “liberties have been taken.” The real Cohn, as most of the features around the 2017 revival have pointed out, was an aide to Senator Joe McCarthy and a mentor to the young Donald Trump. He is also responsible for arguably the sweetest line in the play: “What you love will take you to places you never dreamed you’d go.”

Unlike most contemporary plays and films, this production stays with you days after you’ve seen it. ‎

It is almost undeniably the theatrical event of the year, rivalled only by Jez Butterworths’s The Ferryman at the Gielgud Theatre directed by Sam Mendes and starring Paddy Considine.

Both plays deal with love, forgiveness, death, violence and the ties of family. Only Angels in America references Mormon underwear.

Angels in America is on at the National Theatre until Saturday 19th August and will also be broadcast to cinemas by NT Live from 20 July.