New Diorama Theatre – until 1st April 2023
Reviewed by Ben Jolly
Section 28 … a musical? Not something that first comes to mind in this, the “golden age” of the Hollywood/jukebox musical.
This piece, produced by Breach and commissioned by New Diorama, dares to go where not many shows do these days. Billed as a “documentary musical” and based around the controversial Section 28 law that was passed in 1988 under the Thatcher’s Conservative government, we hear the voices of real people who lived their lives during this time, seeing the effects and impact this law had on the country’s people and society.
I’ll admit it, for the first thirty seconds of the piece, once the auditorium lights came down, the music launched and our troupe of performers walked onstage in unison, pounding their fists in time to the beat of the music, angst and rage emulating from them… I had a moment of panic, “what have we let ourselves in for here?” My thoughts were immediately diminished as the next two hours had me captivated from beginning to end.
With a hugely gifted creative team behind the scenes, the show is informative, engaging and hugely entertaining; cleverly borderlining respect with passion without coming across overly negative and preachy. It has been written by Ellice Stevens and Billy Barrett (who also directs) with fantastic music by Frew (the music is the beating heart of the show) and simple yet effective choreography by Sung Im Her.
The small but mighty cast of four, whose heart and dedication to the project are evident throughout, bring something unique to showcase their talents. Ellice Stevens’ fantastic rendition of Margaret Thatcher was a particular highlight for me and any monologue recited with vulnerable indignation by EM Williams never failed to provoke emotion within. What I appreciate most of all is the fact that these performers are clearly actors first and foremost, they can sing, they can move but it all comes from their organic, raw and rooted performances.
There is some really polished work shining through visually with this piece, almost like a fifth character performing on stage, the graphics elevate the narrative and help move the pace along, again without distraction and so a special mention to Zakk Hein feels greatly deserved.
A musical documenting the devastating effect of a law that was put in place to prevent the “promotion” of homosexuality – this team had quite the task at hand, but abseiling lesbians followed by an all singing all dancing Margaret Thatcher – who could ask for more?