By Jennifer Richards
Considering my previous shows involved robot women, characters playing body parts and crime noir, writing a show set in 1988 and centred on the very real legislation of Clause 28 (which made the promotion of homosexuality illegal in schools) seemed a bit of stretch.
But Adriana Sanford, the director of this play and of Paperclip Theatre (the theatre company I’m in), rang me up at the beginning of the year and asked me to do just that. She said it was 30 years on from Clause 28 this year and considering we had both spoken for a while about how we didn’t see enough lesbian and bisexual women’s stories told on stage, it seemed like the perfect time to do it.
Creating a show around a piece of legislation might sound like the dullest pitch in the world (especially with no robot women in sight), but the impact of this legislation is still felt today. Yet, simultaneously, many people have not heard of this devastating and homophobic policy. When it was introduced by Thatcher in 1988, many LGBT groups had to self-sensor themselves, with support groups in schools and colleges being closed down as councils worried the work of these groups would breach Clause 28. The LGBT community wasn’t allowed to be exactly that: a community.
As we see with the negative LGBT rhetoric of Trump today, this kind of language and policy simply emboldens and justifies homophobic views. With fears that LGBT rights may be starting to regress again, exploring queer history on stage felt vital. Particularly as we need to remember our history if we want to stop it repeating.
Despite being a queer woman, I actually knew very little queer history back at the beginning of this year, with those who made my school books seeming to have decided it wasn’t worth adding in and leaving me with little knowledge of the LGBT greats (of which there are many).
But I’ve been so grateful that Adriana asked me to write this piece as I now feel more connected to my community than I have ever felt. I got to interview two of the lesbian activists who campaigned against the Clause by abseiling into the House of Lords and crashing BBC News, and I now know how lucky I am to be standing on the shoulders of these great women who have meant a show like this can be staged today.
The show itself, which is titled Dandelion, interlinks the two separate stories of student Claire and her teacher Ann and how they both deal with the fallout from Clause 28. With one discovering her sexuality for the first time, and the other having been in a committed same-sex relationship for two years, we see Claire & Ann learn to navigate a society that enforced silence, oppression and the denial of who are you.
But, if you’re wondering about the title of the play, I’ve also added a little piece of my own queer identity in calling the piece Dandelion. I came out as bisexual to my best friends in my mum’s beach hut, which has a dandelion painted on the back and, since then, it’s always been a queer symbol to me. I wanted to put a little bit of my queer identity into the piece as the play does feel incredibly personal and raw, as writing it has not only shown me how far as a community we’ve come, but also how far we have to go.
Throughout the process of putting this play on, I’ve learnt that telling a story that reflects your own and your community’s experience can actually be a lot scarier than having robot women and body parts come to life. But writing it left me surer of who I am, and even prouder to be a part of this amazing community.
Dandelion will be on at the King’s Head on 16th & 17th December. You can buy tickets at: kingsheadtheatre.com