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Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, The Space

Book and Lyrics by Bill Russell
Music by Janet Hood
Directed and Choreographed by Joseph C Walsh
★★★

Pros: Showcases some strong young and up-and-coming talent. The Space, a converted church with a warm, spiritual interior, nicely augments the memorial and celebratory nature of the piece.

Cons: Powerful vocals were occasionally too great for the space. The storyline is slightly overdone, and the running time a bit too long.

Our Verdict: A tight-but-slightly-dated production with an important theme and story to tell (the face of AIDS). A good platform for young and developing performers to show off what they’ve got.

Credit: Bettina Strenske for Language Laid Bare

That Elegies for Angles, Punks and Raging Queens is a celebration is made clear from the moment we walk into the theatre to find a hoppin’ and happenin’ party in progress; thirty or so men and women dressed up, dressed down and barely dressed, happily ‘working it’, seemingly without a care in the world. We soon find out, however, that they all shared (yes, past tense) one huge care: dead or living (mostly the former) they have all been affected by AIDS. Out of the twenty-nine characters, twenty-five of them have been killed by this disease and they have come together amongst the living that loved them to remember their lives, their friendships, their relationships, the people they cared about, the people that cared for them, the people they left behind.

In monologues inspired by the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt (a composition of over 48,000 individual 3-by-6 foot panels personalised for as many deceased, mostly from AIDS), each apparition reveals their story – how they became a part of this get-together, how they dealt with it, with whom they dealt with it, the hopes for their legacy, the lives and loves they left behind. Between these narratives and the complimenting outbursts of sometimes musical-esque, sometimes gospel influenced song from those who are living (and mourning the loss of their friends, co-workers and family), it becomes evident that this party is a sendoff: the last heartfelt goodbye to those who left the world too soon, with the promise of never being forgotten.

The point of the production is quite obviously to widen the perception of ‘the face of AIDS’, and it does this effectively. Gay, straight, young, old, child, married, single, monogamous, less so, outgoing and wild, straight-laced and conservative, professionals, veterans, mothers, wives and drug-addicts. The barriers are broken down to dilute (and hopefully one day eradicate) the stigma attached to AIDS.

The production is beautifully directed and staged by Joseph C Walsh who makes excellent use of the unique space in The Space (which it must be said, couldn’t be a more appropriate fit as a converted church). Keeping the majority of the cast on stage most of the time, Walsh creates a community, a family even, of this band of unified characters as they support, sympathise, cajole and tease one another through their memories.

This is an important piece of writing that was necessary when it was written in the late 1980s and remains necessary today. However the style in which it is written does feel dated. The writing, although impressive in its poetic verse (no mean feat considering the subject matter), could perhaps be even more impactful with fewer characters and stronger relationships and ties between them. The insertion of song occasionally felt forced and out of place, although it did help deepen the emotional connection to the characters and their situations in a way that sometimes only music can. More attention could also have been paid to ensuring the power of the vocals did not out-do the space, which detracts from the production at hand.

Although running at an average (even short!) time of about 90 minutes, the production did drag a little bit and, with such a large cast, each receiving their limelight, it did start to feel a bit like a talent showcase towards the end (although talented talent, it cannot be denied).

All in all however, this was a strong, cohesive production of a subject that deserves attention in a venue that is definitely worth visiting by a cast and a company that deserves its applause.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Elegies for Angels, Punks and Drag Queens runs at The Space until 6th October 2012.
Box Office: 020 7515 7799 or book online at

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