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The Act - Oval House Theatre

The Act

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

THE Act, an exploration of the 1967 decriminalisation of homosexuality using personal anecdotes, verbatim House of Commons speeches and song in a powerful cabaret-style performance, runs at the Oval House Theatre (Upstairs) from October 8 to October 26, 2013.

Created by Thomas Hescott and Matthew Baldwin and directed by Thomas Hescott, The Act is performed by Matthew Baldwin.

In 1957 the Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences declared: “homosexuality cannot legitimately be regarded as a disease, because in many cases it is the only symptom and is compatible with full mental health in other respects.”

The Wolfenden Report (as it became known after its Chair, Lord Wolfenden) concluded “homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence”. Ten years later, spurred on by the Church of England, the 1967 Sexual Offences Act decriminalised homosexuality.

Returning after critical acclaim following the work-in-progress commission at Ovalhouse as part of their 50th anniversary season Counterculture 50 in February 2013, The Act returns as a full-length show telling the story of a man who was a respectable civil servant by day, but by night could be found down the Dilly with the inverts and low lives of the Soho underbelly.

Thomas Hescott’s intelligent and considered examination of British values, morals and prejudices in the late sixties finds one Act debated in parliament, and another fuelling a subculture in an underworld wrestling with its identity in the final days before the door is opened on a closed community.

Writer and director Thomas Hescott said: “I’ve wanted to examine the stories of the gay men who lived their lives when it was a criminal offence for many years now. It is striking how much resistance within the gay community there was to decriminalise their world, and striking too that one of the biggest forces for change came from the Church of England.

“So many of the arguments debated back in the ‘50s and ‘60s are the arguments you hear used during the recent equal marriage debate, in many ways the world is a very different place now, but at its core we still find ourselves examining the same ideas around identity and sexuality.”

Thomas Hescott trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama, with English National Opera and on the National Theatre Studio Directors Programme. In 2012, he was the Associate Director on Long Days Journey Into Night in the West End, and he spent three years working with Robert Wilson on The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic for the Manchester International Festival and on a European tour. This autumn, he directs National Youth Theatre’s Tory Boyz in their West End Season at the New Ambassadors Theatre.

His previous credits as director include Wolves At The Window (Arcola Theatre and Off-Broadway), The British Ambassador’s Belly Dancer (Arcola and Arts Theatre, West End) and Anatol (Arcola Theatre). Hescott was also staff director on the original award-winning run of The History Boys (National Theatre) as well as Resident Director for the 2005 and 2006 seasons at the Chichester Festival.

Matthew Baldwin most recently played Abanazer in Get Aladdin (ATS at the Landor) and Barry in the short film Just Looking. His other film roles include Dan in Love Bite and the Compere in Born Beautiful. His other stage work includes Justiniano in Westward Ho (White Bear Theatre), Solinus in Comedy of Errors (Courtyard Theatre) and the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood Queen of Thieves and Lady Gargoyle in Sleeping Beauty, One Little Prick (ATS).

The Act is suitable for ages 16+.

Tickets: £14, £10 concessions, £8 under 16 and 65+, £7 previews (October 8 and 9) – available from the box office on 020 7582 7680 or online at www.ovalhouse.com/.

Time: Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm.

Running Time: 1 hour 15 minutes.