Above The Stag

History homework: How has being queer in the classroom changed over the past thirty years? This informative play is your revision guide…

Section 28 was was enacted on the 24th of May 1988, and stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. It was repealed on the 21st of June 2000 in Scotland, and on the 18th of November 2003 in the rest of the United Kingdom.

‘Next Lesson’ is a whirlwind tour through history, from 1988 to 2006, that examines how that hateful piece of legislation from the Thatcher government impacts upon the lives and loves of both staff and pupils at a London secondary school. Author Chris Woodley keeps the piece leaping through time as every scene moves the narrative forward to a different year – allowing us to follow the characters and their stories as they develop over the decades. These individual snapshots add up to a colourful collage that deftly documents a particular period of British history.

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The writing is brought vividly to life by an exceptional cast, most of whom take on multiple roles. Sam Goodchild absolutely shines as the backbone of the piece – his schoolboy character of Michael eventually returning to the school as a member of staff. Other highlights include Florence Odumosu’s belligerent teenage lesbian, Samuel Lawrence’s reserved English teacher, and Daniel Forrester’s fit and flirty janitor. Stephanie Willson gives a masterclass in transformative performance, seriously impressing as both a mother who’d prefer her son to stay in the closet, and as a lesbian PE teacher determined to smash her way out of it. 

Director Andrew Beckett has put together a compelling history lesson that and will resonate with anyone who lived through those changing times. Sections dealing with the bombing of the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho are particularly affecting. Sound design by Toby Hilly perfectly evokes the period with an historical hit parade that helps to propel us on this voyage through recent history. ‘Next Lesson’ is ultimately an uplifting piece that shows how things really do get better. First class. 

Gay Times gives Next Lesson – ★★★★

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