Sarah Blake reviews Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens for World AIDS Day.
World AIDS Day certainly did not pass by unnoticed at UCL this year, with the UCLU Musical Theatre, Drama and LGBT+ societies joining together to put on a phenomenal musical charity benefit of Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens. The ensemble consists of monologues and songs that are each told from the perspective of someone who has lived with, and died from, AIDS, or their loved ones.
The simple set design in the Japanese Roof Garden Marquee consists solely of chairs and a quilt hung up at the back of the stage. The taboo so often associated with AIDS is broken down as the unique characters, including the most average and unexpecting office worker, a soldier, a nurse and a young child, gradually occupy these chairs, creating a community feel of consolidation. The quilt also acts as a cohesive metaphor, made by the production term to replicate the AIDS Memorial Quilt, a community project created to raise both awareness of the disease and funds for organisations that support those affected by it. This is an extremely powerful symbol, as each square of the quilt is made in memory of an individual who has died from AIDS. To demonstrate the power of this symbol, and the time and effort that has clearly gone into its production, the quilt could be shown off more throughout the performance, or perhaps brought to the front at the end so the audience can fully appreciate it.
The monologues are often exceptionally poignant, demonstrating emotions from fury to loss, and from unbearable guilt to sheer boredom. These emotional speeches are broken up with more light hearted ones, while the underlying messages still remain, such as a monologue from a fabulous drag queen (Lovis Maurer) and some very impressive, if somewhat unexpected, acrobatics from James Buckley during I Don’t Do That Anymore. The cast handle all of the topics, many of which people often find awkward or taboo to speak about, with sensitivity and passion throughout.
Stand out performances come during Claudia and Angela’s scene, in which Mabel Moll powerfully delivers Claudia’s monologue, about discovering your true friends in times of distress, before Julia Ravey leaves the cast members and audience alike in tears with Angela’s song of I Don’t Know How To Help You. The vibe of the female duet, Celebrate, which comes shortly after, could not be more different, as Lizzie Miesenboeck and Catrin Harris have the audience feeling uplifted again with their strong voices hitting all the notes of the dramatic melismatic melodies. This feeling is also conveyed in the hilarious Spend It While You Can as well as the finale, when the whole cast come together, beautifully lead by Will Hunkin.
Luke Conor Baker, one of the show’s producers, told us that it was an incredibly emotional production to be a part of, particularly as cast members were able to research the real-life people whose names are on the quilt and whose story they are telling. This adds a whole new level to the performances, and the emotion that the cast feel is often very effectively transmitted to the audience.
All money raised from the benefit is going to NAZ (a sexual health charity focussing on BAME communities) and Body and Soul (a charity that provides numerous services to support families affected by HIV). A speaker from Body and Soul spoke at the start of the evening about the charity’s work and of the three fundamentals they work towards: love, bravery and wisdom. The cast of Elegies certainly communicated all three of these aspects during their performance and I would encourage anyone go on Friday or Saturday for an emotional and insightful evening.
Tickets are sold on the door for Friday 2nd Decemeber and Saturday 3rd December at 7:15pm
Photo credits: Luke Conor Baker