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Review: After the Act (A Section 28 Musical) at Traverse Theatre - Ed Fringe

Review by Carly Fisher


As a big fan of Verbatim theatre, After the Act (A Section 28 Musical) was a show that held huge appeal to me - not just because I was keen to see Verbatim take the form of a musical but also because the content itself is relevant, heartbreaking and extremely important.


Section 28 (or Clause 28) was a legislative designation across Britain that prohibited the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ from 1988-2000. Forcing companies, schools and community groups to self-censor or even close, the long lasting impacts of this unjust legislation are undeniable and still evident today.


After the Act uses the words of activists, students, teachers, media, politicians, etc and intertwines it with legislation and a series of reports, to pick up twenty years later and acknowledge the long term implications on British society and on the individuals who lived through Section 28.


The themes of isolation, trauma and fear are prevalent throughout. The themes of resistance, anger and at times, defeat, permeate through the text. More than anything, there is an emphasis on ‘volume’ that I feel defines the piece for me - a feeling that after so many years of silence, it is time to be really, really, justifiably loud…and it is exciting to watch.


Set to synth-pop 1980s vibe music, the songs early in the show certainly drag you in with both hands. Unfortunately, by about the third song, the music starts to sound so similar song-to-song that concentrating on the specifics of the lyrics is the only way to know we have moved on from the last piece. I hate to say this because I love a musical more than most but to me, I just couldn’t understand what the point of making this show and this story a musical was - what was enhanced by using this form that would have been ‘less than’ if told as a play…I have really thought a lot about this since seeing the show and to be honest, I have not come up with a reason. Other than perhaps to provide levity in an otherwise legislation-heavy script, the music did not advance the plot, enhance character development or change the course of the show…it was just…there.


Unfortunately, the set also did not work for me. Whilst Zakk Hein’s projections were well designed, the need for curtains to project them on seemed to come at the expense of showcasing the actors. Though a directional choice, no doubt, by Billy Barrett, I did not understand the benefit of having entire scenes cloaked by thin curtains.


These critiques aside, the performances were strong with Zachary Willis the clear stand out for me. His portrayal of a character by the name of Ian was heart wrenching - each story he told was shared with such an obvious respect for the teller of that story and as its custodian, Willis told it with power, vulnerability and very strong acting chops.


Writer Ellie Stevens, Tika Mu’tamir, EM William round out the ensemble of 4 on stage. Each offer detailed and considered performances that, like Willis, show their respect for the stories and the honour to tell them. Ranging from activists that stormed TV stations, to gym teachers, to teenagers, to Margaret Thatcher herself, this is a talented ensemble of actors who seamlessly move through characters but provide great detail in the characterisation of each.


As a group, singing ability definitely ranged but not all the harmonies were perfect but it didn’t matter much because you were there for the story, and writers Stevens and Barrett have packed the show to the brim with detailed information, generous stories and most importantly, kindness.


I definitely think that in a more intimate setting, this show would have been a lot more powerful. The Traverse theatre is very large, very steep and somewhat impersonal for a show like this.


I really wanted to love this, I think I really did love the story itself and have deep respect for how perfect a topic this is for a new Verbatim piece. But unfortunately, something stood in the way of me just completely engaging with this piece and though I am grateful to know a lot more about Section 28 and especially the people whom it impacted the most, I left somewhat underwhelmed by the show as a whole.


Despite this, I would see whatever Breach Theatre Company offers next because I believe that they are a company that knows their voice, their power and their ability to highlight a real need for conversation and for change…the highest praise I can give to any company!

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