AFTER THE ACT at the New Diorama Theatre
“a powerful and inspired piece of theatre”
In 1988, the Conservative government introduced a series of laws across Britain under Section 28 that prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities. Whipped up by media panic and the Danish book ‘Jenny lives with Eric and Martin’, the bill had a devastating effect on the lives of LGBTQ+ people and still leaves a terrifying legacy within the teaching profession.
20 years after the infamous bills’ repeal, multi-award-winning theatre company Breach (It’s True, It’s True, It’s True) have transformed archival interviews from teachers, activists and students who lived and worked during the reign of Section 28 into a verbatim musical complete with impassioned songs accompanied by 80s synth. Directed by company co-founder Billy Barrett, this musical feels all the more pertinent as trans rights become more restrictive than ever within the United Kingdom.
The cast – Tika Mu’tamir, Ellice Stevens (also co-founder and writer), EM Williams and Zachary Willis – re-enact the accounts of various different stakeholders in the bill whilst wearing a jazzy selection of 80s outfits. The singing is for the most part quite strong – especially Mu’tamir – though more is spoken than explicitly sung so that the words used can be thoroughly digested by the audience. A jaunty tune relaying the various slurs hurled at gay people is particularly good.
There is a vague chronology to the show though we jump back and forward in time when best suits. We begin with the storming of the BBC TV Studio by lesbian activists before following the campaign of terror launched by the Tory party and right-wing groups over materials available via Haringey Council to present a positive image of gay and lesbian people. Other iconic moments include a group of activists abseiling into the House of Lords after Section 28 is made law as well as various debates within the Commons where homophobic comments are made with (pardon the pun) gay abandon.
Stevens gives a particularly fantastic performance. Her comic timing is impeccable and her performance as a near-drag Margaret Thatcher to open the second half is simply fantastic. Williams and Mu’tamir provide great support and narrative direction as they effectively recreate one interview between pairs of lesbian activitists who took part in the storming of the BBC and abseiling into the House of Lords to protest the bill respectively. Willis brings a wonderful tenderness to his retelling of a young gay man who attempted suicide at school due to the lack of support, guidance or communication about his sexuality.
Archival footage and backdrops are projected onto the sets various layered walls (Leach). These are sometimes playful, at other times deadly serious as we see young men in hospital with AIDS. The use of video adds great movement to the set that is otherwise rather plain though makes great use of levels and steps to enhance the space. The musicians – Frew and Ellie Showering – station themselves above the stage on a raised platform and provide a thoroughly energetic performance.
A sheer sheet and projector is used for a fair chunk of the first half which works particularly well when we are watching Sue Lawley deliver her news broadcast but provides a bit of a psychological barrier as we move to real-life testimony. It is welcome when it is removed. It is also a shame that the platform on which the musicians are stationed is not utilised for the famous abseil though health and safety concerns are of course understood!
After the Act is a powerful and inspired piece of theatre. The songs are inventive and engaging and the performances are thoroughly heartfelt. This is a must-see.
Reviewed on 9th March 2023
by Flora Doble
Photography by Alex Brenner
Previously reviewed at this venue: