Award-winning company Breach have shouldered the enormous burden of condensing the life, history and aftermath of Section 28 into a couple of hours on the stage. After the Act uses the words of those involved and affected by the legislation, and unpacks this messy period with style. It’s all-singing and dancing, because how better to explore this unhappy legacy than with a musical?
In case you don’t know about Section 28 it is a piece of legislation which prevented local authorities and schools from “promoting” homosexuality from 1988 to 2003. Children and young people at school in those years would not have seen anything that promoted same-sex family life because it forbade showing the “acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. Adults at the time were also left feeling powerless to help, and made to look like their lives were taboo. It caused huge numbers of LGBTQ+ people to feel ashamed, frightened, and invisible. The trauma it caused is still raw, and we live in its hangover twenty years later.
It might seem a bit weird to think that this topic would so excellently fit into the format of a musical, but it really does. Snippets from lived experience are woven together into a shrewd libretto by writers Ellice Stevens and Billy Barrett. Cleverly paced, it sensitively gives room for the poignant emotional moments, whilst not afraid to let humour come through. It’s outstanding how Barrett’s direction also manages to highlight the ridiculousness behind some of the bigots involved in Section 28, showing them as clownishly ridiculous to a hilarious result – the pinnacle of which was Stevens’ outlandish portrayal of Margaret Thatcher. The music, by composer Frew, manages to bring out the spirit of the songs and of the times with nostalgic synths and catchy tunes, which are excellently performed from a lofty DJ booth on the stage by Frew and Ellie Showering.
The quartet of queer minstrels (Tika Mu’tamir, Ellice Stevens, EM Williams and Zachary Willis) act their way through a huge number of roles with astoundingly dynamic performances. They transition seamlessly from one character to another as they tell different people’s stories, launching into each song effortlessly. What’s really impressive is the way they feel like a supportive and loving troupe, a microcosm of the vibrant communities they are telling the stories of. At the beginning of the show there are perhaps a couple of unconfident entries, but these are quickly forgotten. True testament to their skill are the heartfelt moments where music and action stop, and we listen to their still but moving monologues.
Final shoutout to the set designer Lizzy Leech and the video designer Zakk Hein who collaborate to make an exciting place for the cast to inhabit. The videos transport us back to the 80s and 90s, with crackly VHS effects and historical footage. Combined with the simple but versatile set, the stage, which appeared small at first glance, becomes huge and layered.
After the Act is a queer epic, a tribute to those who have suffered and continue to live with the consequences of this heinous act of politics. Those lucky enough to not have felt the effects of Section 28 would quickly realise its impact watching this show, and I am sure they will feel changed. While there are so many moments that portray the despair that overwhelmed so many people, the message I’m left with is one of community, of love and of hope for better.
Written by: Ellice Stevens and Billy Barrett
Produced by: Breach for New Diorama
Directed by: Billy Barrett
Composer and Music Director: Frew
Choreographer: Sung Im Her
Set and Costume Design by: Lizzy Leech
Video Design by: Zakk Hein
After The Act plays at New Diorama until 1 April. Further information and tickets here.