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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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