Union Theatre, 21st May 2019

Presented by Union Theatre, Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens is a collection of stories, verse and songs in tribute to those lost to the AIDS epidemic, their lives, loved ones and legacies. 
 My first encounter with this stunning show, I was blown away by the raw energy and honesty that lies at the heart of the production, alongside the great talent engaged onstage. The first congratulations for this breath-taking show goes to the cast and director (Bryan Hodgson) for the ensemble work. From the opening number (Angels, Punks and Raging Queens), right through to the conclusion (Learning to Let Go), the cast work as one to tell a multitude of incredible stories: funny, sad, reminiscent, regretful, all hold a place in truth and love, and all hit hard. Without a weak link, the cast were endlessly strong, endlessly emotive and endlessly giving. Creating such intensely diverse characters whilst being the strongest ensemble in London and multi-roling is intensely impressive. 

Choreography by Adam Haigh was stunning; often understated, Haigh knew when to pull back with this production, and teamed up with Hodgson’s heart-wrenching direction perfectly to create a fluid fusion between direction and choreography within some scenes. Lighting by Alex Musgrave and set design by Justin Williams also came as a double act, as the stunningly simple but effective white raised square, lined with LED light strips, acted as a base for the sections of quilt laid down for each story. The time, thought and detail that was in each section of quilt was breath-taking; the multitude of teddy bears, the red pyjamas, the American flag, and each section really had the heart of each character inside, which made the finale ever the more heart-breaking. As the cast performed ‘Learning To Let Go’, they stepped away from the raised white platform that the show had been performed from, to reveal all of the sections of quilt laid out as one, in a tribute to the Memorial Quilt. 

Book and lyrics by Bill Russell are heart-breaking and hilarious at the same time: going from “tossed my ashes like confetti… we did know how to party”, to  “we gave them death as surely as we gave them life”, left the audience laughing out loud, shocked to the core, and more connected to those characters in the short scenes than I have ever seen in theatre. 

My best friend and I sat and paid witness to this incredible production, and as the quilt was revealed, they grabbed my hand and held me, tears streaming down our faces, not letting go until long after the cast had left the stage. This show is so important, not only to the friends and families of those lost to the AIDS epidemic, not only to the members of the LGBTQ+ community to whom this is both a recent history and current issue, but to everyone. AIDS has touched so many people, directly and indirectly, historically and recently, torn people apart and brought them together. The people who are represented on the quilt are, through this wonderful show, not only remembered, but celebrated, and I think there are few better ways to do that justice. 

This landmark show is only running until the 8th of June, and is certainly not one to be missed. 

Photo credit- Mark Senior