Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens

by Bill Russell

Oxford Playhouse, 10th -13th November 2004

You can't have fun without a good cause, proclaims director Sam Brown during the opening dedication of this charity performance of Bill Russell and Janet Hood's musical cabaret, being shown for World Aids Day, in association with the Oxford Student stopAIDS campaign. But they have buckets in the foyer collecting for the Terrence Higgins Trust, and all proceeds are going to a variety of AIDS charities, so they're free to have fun; and the enthusiastic young cast, decked out in their best 80s retro gear, concentrate hard on squeezing the entertainment out of this inclusive sweep through the many faces and lives of people who have died of AIDS.

The setting is a rather purgatorial cocktail bar, presided over by elegant PWA Patrick (the thoroughly charming Edward Archibald), complete with its own very glamorous band (piano, cello and harp), where the dead gather to tell their tales through monologues and songs. One by one they step forward from the red paint, scaffolding and trendy chairs to share songs and stories - tragic, tawdry, tough, resigned - quick-changing between betrayed girlfriend and bath-house bunny, tragic haemophiliac and sullen prostitute, drama-queen drag queen and accidentally infected health worker, a big grab-bag of characters, all here to show how people with AIDS are just plain old folk like us. If we happened to be New Yorkers from the 1980s, that is; there's a slightly tragic feel of the world (and the political issues around AIDS) having moved on a bit since this was written. Also, the whole thing is in rhyme, which does get jarring after a while. However, Jaïrus Obayomi's effortless switches, Vicky Ross' light humour, Jack Farthing's charm and Louka Travlos' gleeful exhibitionism go a long way towards lifting
the show; and Lucy Page's honeyed voice sings a sweet, sweet torchsong.

Jeremy Dennis 10/11/04