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Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens review at Union Theatre, London – ‘slick, smart production’

The cast of Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens. Photo: Mark Senior The cast of Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens. Photo: Mark Senior
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Inspired by the Names Project Aids Memorial Quilt, Elegies For Angels, Punks and Raging Queens is a song cycle that gives testimony to those who have died as a result of Aids. The quilt is the largest piece of community art in existence, consisting of more than 48,000 named panels. Bill Russell and Janet Hood’s poignant show attempts to bring some of the names to life in poetry and song.

Originally conceived in the late 1980s, there have been tweaks and changes throughout the show’s history but the message of acceptance, love and understanding remain constant. In Bryan Hodgson’s slick production a girl contemplates the quilt as each of the names relates their story. There’s the outrageous queen determined to aggrandise her exit and the guilt-ridden grandmother, finding solace in the new friends she makes in her hospice. Finally, each piece of the quilt comes together in Justin Williams’ clever design as the audience are invited to join in this celebration of life.

It is a steadfast ensemble, but there are a few standout moments including Jackie Pulford’s matronly advice in the number Spend It While You Can and Rhys Taylor’s bittersweet tale of fundamentalist parents who wanted to pray the illness away. My Brother Lived in San Francisco is arguably the best-known number and Ailsa Davidson as Judith pitches it with a genuine sense of loss. Produced in support of the MAD Trust, Hodgson’s contemporary production is a salient reminder that despite medical breakthroughs, HIV is still devastating lives every day.

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Slick, smart production of this poignant song-cycle