The timeline of the AIDS epidemic may be disputed, but its impact is not. Since being diagnosed in the early eighties, HIV/AIDS is reported to have claimed 35 million lives worldwide. With no cure, and little understanding or care, thousands died – many without burials or even recognition.
Thirty years since its original production, Elegies is still powerful today. It’s a lovely but varied show, with committed performances and excellent design. Formed of songs and monologues, this new revival draws upon a skilled ensemble to tell the stories of those lost.
The performers all put in great work. Special credit is due to Rhys Taylor for his deeply affecting portrayal of Dwight, a man forced to undergo conversion therapy, and Marcus Ayton who, aside from bringing a simply incredible vocal performance, also provides one of the funniest and most touching monologues. Despite the bleakness of many of the stories (and some enter very dark territory), the overall effect is one that encourages love, joy, and empathy.
Justin Williams’ set design is simple but effective. A raised white platform provides the space for performers to sing, dance and tell their stories – some funny, some tragic. As each performer gets up, a quilt is placed before them, signifying their life as with the NAMES Memorial Quilt by which the show was first inspired. Featuring tight choreography by Adam Haigh and sound and music direction from Henry Brennan that is at turns uplifting and haunting, Elegies is a finely staged production.
My one quibble relates to representation. Elegies does a good job of showing the variety of people affected by AIDs, from gay men to drug addicts, but I would have liked to have seen a greater diversity of racial, gender, and economic identities. The majority of characters tend to be cisgendered, white and, one assumes, middle-class. It’s a minor point perhaps, but I would have enjoyed some more voices that cannot be so easily categorised.
Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens is a moving tribute to people who deserved better. Without national memorials, much less recognition from politicians and the people they serve, plays such as this are all the more meaningful. Elegies is a celebration of life, and a reminder that the fight is far from over.
Author: Bill Russell
Director: Bryan Hodgson
Box Office: 020 7261 9876
Booking Link: http://www.uniontheatre.biz/elegies.html
Booking Until: 8th June 2019