Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens is a dramatic and musical theatre piece, with music by Janet Hood and book and lyrics by Bill Russell, comprised of free verse poems and songs exploring the lives of AIDS victims. Marc Kelly’s production is relatively well done, yet the script is not particularly well written and the songs are unremarkable, meaning this is a fairly average evening’s entertainment.
This production is staged in the round, and this was generally used well, with something of interest for every audience member to look at. However, there are also moments when half of the audience is ignored, which is disappointing considering the awareness of the audience displayed in other parts of the performance. For example, in the song ‘I Don’t Do That Anymore’, although I have no doubt that the actors perform charismatically, only two sides of the audience actually have a good view of the action – a shame when everyone has paid for a ticket.
Singing performances are generally very strong, with only a few weak moments. The full cast numbers create an immersive wash of sound and voices blend very well. Particularly impressive is how the vocals, although extremely well-supported, still convey the poignancy and emotion of the songs. Paul Hill is especially strong in ‘And the Rain Keeps Falling Down’ and Elizabeth Chadwick’s rendition of ‘My Brother Lived in San Francisco’ is perfectly placed: her tone carries beautifully and seems to float over the audience. However, the songs are unremarkable and not especially catchy, regardless of how well they are sung – audiences are likely to leave Elegies singing lines from the show.
Acting performances are also fairly good, but tend towards being overly hammed up. It is difficult to sympathise with characters that are often performed quite unrealistically – an onslaught of extrovert, flamboyant figures wears its audience down, and some light and shade in this direction would have been nice. This said, James Chisholm is particularly captivating as a Broadway dancer, and Rachel Kelly’s high-energy performances always draw her audience in.
Although generally well-performed, the script of Elegies is painfully average and massively self-indulgent. The importance of remembering AIDS victims is not in question, yet the way in which the play chooses to remember them is very contrived and full of stereotypes, which are not encouraging in a society in which homosexuality (the majority of the characters are homosexual) is no longer seen as a quality that separates different types of people. The format is also extremely repetitive and becomes dull well before the end of the first half.
It is also quite distancing to be spoken to only through free verse poetry. I spent more time wondering where the next rhyme would be, as it is often spoken quite strangely, than really engaging with the text. This is perhaps as much a problem with delivery as with the writing, but it seems unlikely that such a contrived script could be performed otherwise.
Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens is an interesting watch, but is definitely not something I would want to see again. The show itself has its fans, but sadly I am not one of them, and only if the style is definitely to your taste is it worth seeing.
Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens is playing at the White Bear Theatre until 2 March. For more information and tickets, see the White Bear Theatre website.