One night in 1988, as the BBC went on air to present the six o’clock news, two activists stormed on set and handcuffed themselves to the newsdesk. They were there to protest Section 28: a new piece of legislation which forbade local authorities from ‘intentionally promoting homosexuality’. Under this law, it became illegal for councils to advance progressive agendas, fund LGBTQ+ initiatives – and speak about homosexuality in schools.
Breach Theatre’s musical After the Act excavates stories from that dark period in British history, with every word coming from activists, teachers, politicians, and students who lived through Section 28. Twenty years after its repeal, it’s clear that the law’s impact has had an indelible effect on an entire generation of young queer people, who are today in their middle age.
The ensemble cast of Ellice Stevens, Tika Mu’tamir, EM Williams and Zachary Willis is astonishingly good, capturing the deeply rooted anger and pain in these testimonials, but also their joy, humour and hope as people across society rise up to fight the law. Its thrumming synth soundtrack and beautifully emotive choreography further elevate what’s happening on stage, which feels vital in both senses of the word – as something absolutely important, and deeply alive. For not only does After the Act preserve the past, but it also draws chilling parallels to the culture wars embroiling our current moment, particularly around the far-right’s backlash against trans rights. Where we go now is up to us; just as long as we never go back.