A humungous quilt, weighing 52 tonnes and consisting of 48,000 panels, dedicated to, and shining light on, the personality of those who have died of AIDS, is the inspiration for, Elegies for Angels Punks and Raging Queens. Each panel of the quilt, equates to a life lost to the virus, the message being, AIDS affects all sectors of societies, writes Carolyn Hart Taylor. 

Mythology around the issue of AIDS is dispelled with frank depictions showing us where and how the dead contracted the virus. Everything from chance encounters, a desperate addict, the prostitute, returning soldiers, within marriages, outside of marriages, one-night stands, a blood transfusion, the promiscuous and the faithful make up the tapestry of remembrance. 

Deliberate, purposeful dramatisation is achieved by a predominately young cast of sixteen, their numbers driving home the extent of the AIDS issue. Slick, polished skits of thumping night clubs, hospital wards or street life show audiences that where there is life there is a history. Ominous as that sounds, Elegies unapologetically celebrates the lives of the victims, giving voice to their experiences, motivating us to take this issue seriously. 

Creative use of special effects lend this production an edgy, sharp vibe allowing actors to create impressive outcomes. Voices are dynamic, after all the point is to resurrect victims, giving them the opportunity to be heard and celebrated. Dressed in heavenly shades of blue and white, on a simple white stage, cast members stand united, supporting each other’s experience. 

Gutsy, sassy attitudes and expressive voices prevent the dead being relegated to statistics. From extroverts basking in limelight to introverts hiding in the wings, cast members ensure audiences recognise AIDS does not discriminate. 

Winning over audiences with serious subject matter is no easy feat, but the scale of talent possessed by cast members and musicians ensures audiences are entertained. Song lyrics, by Bill Russell, ‘Learning to Let Go’, will have you in tears, while defiant divas will make you laugh out loud with ‘Spend it While you Can’. 

Defiantly entertaining and worth seeing. 

Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens is on at The Union Theatre, Old Union Arches, 229 Union Street, Southwark, SE1 0LR until Saturday 8th June. Times: Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2.30pm

Admission: £22 (standard rate) £20 (concessions). Phone: 020 7261 9876