Review: Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, Criterion Theatre

“Learning to let go”

Just a quickie for this one-off – a fundraiser for the Make A Difference Trust of this late 1980s song cycle inspired by the AIDS memorial quilt. The original London production of Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens actually transferred to the Criterion – where tonight’s show was – from the King’s Head but it’s a little difficult to see how this production with its nearly 50-strong company could ever have been scaled down to fit into that Islington pub theatre. But given how the show is made up of individual songs and monologues, each inspired by a different panel on the quilt representing the life of someone who has died from HIV/AIDS, its inherent flexibility shows how it can take whatever form is needed.

Here, Stephen Whitson’s production takes on a new 21st century version of the book by Bill Russell, the updating of which has mixed results. Contemporary references clang a little awkwardly but there’s more of a problem in that neither the fast-moving world of medical advancements nor the changing nature of the epidemic itself are really reflected – the show is already a period piece in so many ways that it perhaps would be better to leave it that way rather than trying to chase a relevance that would be better served by a completely separate part two.

That’s not to deny the enormous power of the writing or the absolute tragedy of the lives lost, which remain very moving, and Dean Austin’s musical direction does well with Janet Hood’s music to trace the highly emotional contours of a journey which must never be forgotten. For me, Madalena Alberto in her slinky red dress, Nick Hendrix in his skimpy orange CKs, Fra Fee’s curly locks and Cassie Compton’s powerful voice stood out but it really was a great piece of collaborative theatre, with so many giving up their time and their precious Sunday nights for a very well-deserving cause.

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