This is such a beautiful and moving piece of work celebrating the lives and commemorating the deaths of those who have been lost to AIDS. The beautiful, diverse and talented cast were a stunning ensemble and I would be hard pushed to single anyone out. Each delivered something a bit different from the others, and each contributed to the whole.
The whole thing is delivered either in verse or in song. It takes a while to get into the rhythm of that, but that is aided by consistently clear delivery and clever staging that allows the blank space to be filled with the cast – who are constantly on the side of the stage when not on it, endlessly moving props as needed while never, ever pulling focus. The direction from Bryan Hodgeson was seemless. The whole show kinetic, bringing in stillness only for its shock value and emotional impact against what was otherwise a constantly moving feast for the eyes.
What could at times have turned to saccharine never did. There was enough humanity – not just the good bits, but the bad too. All human life was here, displayed without judgement. Junkies weren’t transformed away from their selfish desire to put their high first, men had unprotected sex knowing they could pass on their disease. And it was all done with just enough humour and energy to make sure you knew, understood and loved all involved.
The play was based originally on the NAMES project and was entitled The Quilt. First performed in 1989, some of the stories have been updated to include modern references to Grindr and other modern accoutrements but the heart of the show remains the same. And what a heart it is, it bursts with pride and pride parades.
The show is long and perhaps the first half is maybe 10 minutes too long. But the second half screams by so quickly the ending will creep up on you. And the ending had me in bits. Crying, laughing, cheering and whooping, for a show about death after death, this was the most life-affirming ending you could imagine. The final song had us all on our feet and now it’s us audience members who are ‘learning to let go’. But in all honesty this isn’t a show I will let go of in a hurry.
Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens is on until 8 June http://www.uniontheatre.biz/elegies.html Tickets from £10-£22