Tag Archives: Bryan Hodgson

Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens
★★★

Union Theatre

Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens

Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens

Union Theatre

Reviewed – 18th May 2019

★★★

 

“Told in music and verse by the victims and culprits; the heroes and the cowards; the innocent and the culpable, the stories are heartfelt”

 

Originally titled “Quilt”, this is less a song cycle but more of a poetry reading inspired by the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, conceived in 1985 in San Francisco to commemorate the lives lost in the AIDS pandemic. With book and lyrics by Bill Russell and music by Janet Hood it attempts to show some of the sadness and horror that unfurled during the 1980s, but moreover the sense of community, hope and human spirit that always emerges from adversity. Which is what this outing at the Union Theatre brings to the fore. The impressive, sixteen-strong cast inject just the right amount of humour in order to quell the anger, and the result is a celebration rather than a rant.

Director Bryan Hodgson has set the production at the Memorial Quilt (which has since moved from San Francisco to Washington) and has the cast add their own panel to the tapestry on Justin Williams’ simple but effective square-box set as they each tell their story, so at the end of the show we have the full picture. It is a neat, personal touch that, while obviously not matching the scale, reflects the ongoing ideology. The Quilt itself is the largest piece of community art in the world, with each of the panels the size and dimension of a grave. Still growing, it receives at least one extra quilt panel per day.

Like the Quilt, this is a piece that lends itself to continued revision and, as was pointed out in the final rather ‘happy-clappy’ closing moments of the show, the aftermath is still with us. Until that moment, the richness of the evening was intact, held together by the rich thread of the vignettes. Told in music and verse by the victims and culprits; the heroes and the cowards; the innocent and the culpable, the stories are heartfelt. To slip into a kind of evangelism slightly spoils the effect. It is always a challenge to get the balance right with this sort of theatre, where the message is as important as the means.

The cast members are all skilled hands at this balancing act; measuring out the moments of comedy with the right blend of darkness, and knowing when to ask us to take things seriously or whether just to delight us with a skilled offhand observation. Sometimes the sincerity of the performances were at odds with the slick, stylised lighting (Alex Musgrave) and sound design (Henry Brennan), but the commitment of the actors outshone these quibbles, and their belief in the material manages to rescue the show when it steers too close to sentimentality.

After all, they are here to celebrate, not mourn. And Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens at the Union does just that.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Mark Senior PR

 


Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens

Union Theatre until 8th June

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Twang!! | ★★★★ | April 2018
H.R.Haitch | ★★★★ | May 2018
It’s Only Life | ★★★★ | June 2018
Around the World in Eighty Days | ★★★ | August 2018
Midnight | ★★★★★ | September 2018
Brass | ★★★★ | November 2018
Striking 12 | ★★★★ | December 2018
An Enemy of the People | ★★ | January 2019
Can-Can! | ★★★★ | February 2019
Othello | ★★★★ | March 2019

 

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Salad Days – 3 Stars

Salad

Salad Days

Brighton Theatre Royal & Touring

Reviewed – 5th September 2018

★★★

“As absurd plots go, Salad Days’ story is hard to beat”

 

‘In 1954, the Old Vic’s artistic director Denis Carey gave Julian [Slade] and Dorothy [Reynolds] just one month to write a summer show – words, music, everything. They did it.’ So writes Adrian Slade in the programme notes for this production, and it is a helpful introduction – placing us firmly in the period, and providing a clue as to the origins of this utterly bonkers musical confection.

As absurd plots go, Salad Days’ story is hard to beat: a young couple find themselves the guardians of a magical piano which bewitches people into dancing in public; the piano goes missing and a flying saucer appears to help track it down. This is clearly not a musical that takes itself very seriously, and yet the audience requires a level of sincerity in the production, particularly in 2018, to keep the show from becoming a dusty and risible period piece. It is a hard balance to strike, and one which Regan de Wynter’s production – initially at the Union Theatre in London and now at Brighton’s Theatre Royal ahead of a UK tour – generally maintains. For the most part, the show zips along with a great deal of effervescence and charm, and laughs are in plentiful supply. The comedy works best however, when it bubbles up from the pure silliness of the plot, or springs from the deft handling of physical business – special mention here to the marvellous hairdressers scene, expertly played by Wendi Peters. The scenes which rely heavily on running gags are less successful; these are the awkward interludes in which the show’s 64 years weigh heavily.

The songs, although fun, lack the biting wit of Cole Porter or the inventive musicality of Arthur Sullivan, and the choreography is lively but unremarkable. The lighting design is similarly serviceable, and the production design lacks coherence, particularly in terms of period setting – some costumes clearly coming from the fifties, but others from the twenties and thirties. The success of this production is thus almost wholly down to its committed and energetic cast, which had to work doubly hard last night to combat some very obvious technical issues with sound quality. (As a side note, this reviewer is not convinced by the need to mike up performers in a space the size of the Theatre Royal. All the singers are clearly capable of filling the theatre vocally, unaided). Despite these setbacks, the showstoppers shine through, and there are some lovely lyrical moments too. Maeve Byrne lights up the stage with Asphynxia’s fabulous nightclub pastiche ‘Sand in my Eyes’, and Lewis McBean’s warm tenor is a delight throughout. Also noteworthy are the splendid comic characterisation and sparkling vocal quality of Francesca Pim, and the physical precision and geniality that Callum Evans brings to the mute Troppo.

Salad Days is pure nostalgia – theatrical candyfloss if you will – and Brighton’s beautiful regency Theatre Royal provides the perfect setting to jump on the carousel and indulge in a sugary treat.

 

Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Scott Rylander

 

TheatreRoyalBrighton

Salad Days

Brighton Theatre Royal until 8th September then touring UK

 

 

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