Sunday, June 16

After The Act (A Section 28 Musical) – Traverse Theatre

A law existed until very recently which refused to acknowledge that gay and lesbian existence was normal. Between 1988 and 2003 a local government act was introduced which decreed that councils and schools throughout the United Kingdom be silent on homosexuality and not spend time in lessons discussing or acknowledging let alone normalising its existence.

This production by Breach Theatre, written by Ellice Stevens and Billy Barrett, with an original score by Frew, After The Act takes as it’s starting point the Danish children’s book Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin, which caused such an uproar when it was launched into schools in the early 1980’s. Set against the suddenly rising AIDS epidemic, people panicked, burned the books, protests against teaching same-sex relationships in schools spread like wildfire across the United Kingdom, and inevitably led to outrage in parliament and ultimately the raising of a bill to outlaw all promotion of homosexuality in schools, the now notorious Section 28.

This fire-cracker, angry and insightful musical is made up of individual verbatim accounts from the time; of a closeted lesbian PE teacher admonishing a vulnerable pupil who asks them for help with their own homosexuality, of a public school boy so badly bullied by class mates that they turn to self-harm and attempted suicide, of a church-goer brutally abused by priest-administered ‘conversion therapies’ and the lasting permanent mental effect of all of these on their individual victims.

There is some humour here too, Sue Lawley wrestling with the lesbian ‘invasion’ activists whilst trying to read the six o’clock news is hilarious. Likewise, Maggie Thatcher, in mini blue dress and helmet hair makes a particularly impressive entrance, as she announces that there will be no interval, not at the Fringe, before preaching against the dangers of homosexuality at a Tory party conference. A heroic abseil by lesbian activists into the House of Lord is also reenacted very cleverly using ropes and the steep side aisles of Traverse 1.

The four performers on stage, Tika Mu’Tamir, Ellice Stevens, E M Williams and Zachary Willis are universally brilliant and carry their various stories and songs without a hitch. The four strong cast and two musicians orchestrate this performance like a slick and well-oiled machine.

The sheer amount that is packed into this brief glimpse is perhaps the most impressive aspect but does feel a little overwhelming at times. To a pumping soundtrack from the high deck by Frew, this production never pauses for breath as it seeks to drive home the message and the warning that it came to deliver to future generations – don’t ever let it happen again.

Reviewer: Greg Holstead

Reviewed: 19th August 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.