Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2023 Theatre Review: After The Act (Traverse Theatre) ★★★★

Twenty years after Section 28 was repealed (23 in Scotland), this high-octane, unapologetic musical is here, it’s queer, and everybody better get used to it.

EM Williams, Tika Mu’tamir and Ellice Stevens in After The Act. Photo Credit: Raymond Davies.

Breach Theatre never shy away from challenging subject matter, and find a way to inject it with light and humour whilst never losing the underlying message. Written by Ellice Stevens and Billy Barrett, with an original score by Frew, After The Act melds music with verbatim accounts, Hansard, news reports, and archival footage. Exploring the rhetoric behind the implementation of Section 28, the political campaigning on both sides, and the lasting impact it had on both young people and teachers, this is a piece with an incredible contemporary resonance. Reflecting the “moral panic” that is currently endangering trans people in this country and worldwide, this is far more than a walk down memory lane.

EM Williams and ensemble in After The Act. Photo Credit: Alex Brenner.

The choice to make this piece a musical both adds and takes away from the narrative flow. There are compelling, dynamic numbers, most evoking the 80s thanks to synth, drums, and additional vocals by Frew and Ellie Showering. Conversely, there are sections where the verbatim text is almost entirely lost by being crammed into an ensemble number, and there are issues with the balance of voices, both spoken and sung. Ellice Stevens is utterly superb as Thatcher, with a camp and irreverent performance that would no doubt have the lady (for) turning in her grave. With an understated yet powerful performance, EM Williams’ monologue about conversion therapy is distressing and impactful.

EM Williams, Zachary Willis, and Ellice Stevens in After The Act. Photo Credit: Alex Brenner.

The bullying, impact on mental health and culture of fear that prevailed, both leading up to and because of the Act, is well reflected here. For those of us who grew up under Section 28, the lack of support or acknowledgment of queer people and relationships was and is far reaching. Spotlighting the lengths protesters went to defend LGBTQ+ rights, through the reminiscences of activists and real footage from the time, Barrett’s direction is thoughtful and uncluttered. Protests are messy affairs, and in some ways After The Acts echoes this. The show may be a little rough around the edges, but the political and social message is clear and vital.

By Deborah Klayman

After The Act plays at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh until August 27th, 2023.

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