Symphony Hall Birmingham, 6 September 2023
When discussing his latest album Héloïse Adélaïde Letissier, known professionally as Christine and the Queens, Redcar or simply Chris, often cited Tony Kushner’s Angels in America as having a strong impact on the album. The album almost serves as a loose retelling of the play. Set against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis in Reagan’s America, Angels in America weaves through the lives of people who are impacted by the disease and wider systemic problems plaguing America. Several characters are diagnosed with AIDS and do try to fight the disease – malicious lawyer Roy Kohn spends most of the play claiming that he has liver cancer and Prior Walter, the play’s main protagonist, decides that instead of succumbing to the disease he will use it as a way to ensure a new, revelatory way of governing his life. It’s clear that Christine and the Queens sees himself in a similar way to Prior Walter throughout both the album and the concert.
Several monologues are littered throughout the concert
From the introduction of the PARANOÏA, ANGELS, TRUE LOVE show, it appears that Christine and the Queens are trying to generate a version of Angels in America. Classical statues are dotted around the stage making it seem like a museum exhibit, accompanied by chairs and a small set of marble steps that Chris repeatedly clambers up and down as though it is a piece of performance art. He performs dance routines that oscillate from controlled and harsh to erratic and flailing as his short frame moves around the stage. Several monologues are littered throughout the concert about how “angels love insane” and that what you’re watching “is not a concert, it’s a ritual” that toes the line between a fanatic pastor and a child having a sugar rush. Even the abundance of smoke and strobe lights are, to quote Prior Walter, “very Steven Spielberg” and soaked in the world of Kushner’s play.
And yet something is missing. For a concert that is influenced by a play about human connection, Chris spends most of the play isolated from everything else in the room. There are no backup dancers during the performance, the band are dressed in black and always feels far away from Chris. Several songs are performed to the statues which almost undermines them – the line “even though you see me/you’ll never let me be your boyfriend” on ‘Full of Life’ is an almost heartbreaking commentary on trying to find love as a trans person that is delivered to a lion statue on the corner of the stage. Even when he wanders through the audience, it feels as though he is at arm’s length, never truly engaging with them. There is also the fact that the show is far too long.
Several people sat around me left before the show was over
Once Chris has finished performing ‘Track 10’, an eleven-minute odyssey with aggressive light shows, costume changes and multiple sections, the show begins to feel more repetitive and mundane. Several people sat around me left before the show was over, which might be attributed to how stifling and sweaty the room was or a sense of boredom with the show. For someone who is trying to achieve something in the realm of Angels in America, a play that is almost eight hours long, Chris is unable to make a show that is a quarter of the length as continually engaging.
Whilst Christine and the Queens is undeniably a consummate performer who can command the stage with vocals that are hauntingly beautiful and dance moves that are engaging to watch the show itself sags in places. There are around 30 minutes that could be cut, songs that feel interchangeable or vignettes which begin to feel unnecessary as the concert goes on, and it’s a shame. Chris is trying to develop creatively whilst paying homage to an influential piece of queer art and the fact that the performance falls short feels more saddening than anything else.