There are only two types of music that, when played on the radio, have me diving for the off-button. One is Edward Elgar, the other, the Pet Shop Boys. Having to endure the latter being played as the audience entered to see Section 28 took me back to the hideous times of the late ’80s. It also reminded me that, perhaps, I too had homophobic tendencies back then.
But at least I hated Thatcher (and still do.)
By the time the Section 28 legislation was being punted by her punitive policies, I was among company who felt the force of her discrimination. Pet Shop Boys apart, I stopped thinking being gay was a sin. It’s easy to forget how disgraceful this piece of legislation was, and given the other areas of Thatcher’s hateful legacy which have led to Brexit and other scenarios, this play is a worthwhile historical exposition.
Stafford Lake Theatre Company have created a thoughtful, well-crafted piece of drama that digs around the difficulties that people – especially young people – faced when Section 28 banned schools from promoting homosexuality. As the script points out, ‘promoting’ was a legally fluffy expression. One of the characters says, with the language of Section 28 “all stakeholders can misinterpret it to their own ends.” The same could be said of certain passages in the Bible.
As the drama advances, it is clear that the main ‘end’ is Government-enforced homophobia. Both actors – Ray Stafford and Andrew Lake – play a range of characters that bring the story to life. In a rather straight-laced school, a teacher who the pupils believe is a ‘poofter’ and a student who is trying to come to terms with his sexuality both fall foul of the new regime.
We see the young man’s father, his parish priest, senior teachers in the school and, through subtle audience interaction we become immersed in the story. There is humour too – asking an audience-member if they are chewing – and even the tech-guy chips in with classroom verbal abuse. The play opens with a radio interview that highlights the errant behaviour of politicians, followed a little later by a priest who pedals that Bible-based prejudice, despite his ‘creepy’ interest in the youngster.
This is a clear depiction of the hypocrisy of the times in which ‘Church and State hold hands’ (to quote Joni Mitchell.) With carefully woven soundbites from news stories, TV programmes, and more recent issues (such as Ann Widdecombe spouting her transphobic spleen, or the protests at Birmingham’s Anderton Park Primary) this short play delivers a simple, well-constructed message.
Section 28 had the potential to increase a legacy of hatred. It would be good to think that we are now more tolerant of the LGBTQ+ community. As the Teacher says to the pupil, “I’m sure you’ll find yourself on the right side of history.” Will Thatcher’s legacy ever be eradicated?
We perhaps won’t find women chaining themselves to the desks of 6 O’clock News, or abseiling through the House of Commons in protest against a homophobic law. Yes: that stuff happened, and I remember it well. Will those who didn’t experience this piece of history also have no memory of the Enoch Powell ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech that lies beneath the racist rhetoric of Brexit?
This play is about more than gay rights. It’s about Human Rights. And as such, I am sorry that more people weren’t able to see its short run at this year’s Festival Fringe. I hope that the Stafford Lake Company will continue to produce such well-written, simply-produced, and thought-provoking theatre to bring to Edinburgh’s Festival Fringe in the future.
You can see Section 28: The Legacy of a Homophobic Law at theSpace on the Mile from 31st July – 24th August at 8:20pm. For tickets, please visit www.edfringe.com