Before the Act

Written by Gay/Lesbian writers and composers

Directed by Richard Eyre

Ian McKellen in the role of Producer/Uncle Freddie

Piccadilly Theatre, London

5 June 1988 - 5 June 1988

Programme (thanks to Nick Mercer / Nigel Charnock Archive @charnockarchive)

Comments and Reviews

Gala benefit to support efforts to fight Section 28

The cream of performing arts and showbusiness gathered on the stage of the Piccadilly Theatre on Sunday night to present an extraordinary evening of entertainment - every word and note of it written by lesbians and gay men; from Tchaikovsky to Tennessee Williams, from Sappho to Dame Ethel Smythe. Before The Act, a celebration to counter the effects of Section 28, raised about £7,000 for the Organisation for Lesbian and Gay Action. Fine performances of comedy, tragedy, Broadway musical and opera were interspersed with moving statements from stars opposed to the new law. The biggest cheers went to writer Alan Bennett who came out, and to Dame Peggy Ashcroft. The biggest laugh went to the newly-out Stephen Fry who compared the Government to a pelican because "As far as I'm concerned they can both stick their bills up their asses!" A crowd of stars from TV soaps EastEnders and Brookside joined together in a sketch written by former EastEnders Script Editor Tony Holland. And the first half closed with Imelda Staunton leading dozens of women in the suffragettes' grand old battle song March Of The Women. The show was devised by actors Michael Cashman and Ian McKellen, composer Stephen Oliver and playwright Martin Sherman. Ian McKellen also performed a scene from Bent, with Hugh Quarshie. While John Thaw, Sheila Hancock and Gary Oldham gave equally fine performances in a scene from Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr Sloane, Joan Plowright delivered an Alan Bennett monologue from A Woman of No Importance, and Vlaria Aitken revelled in a scene from Noël Coward's Hands Across The Sea. And so the stars kept appearing, talents who had carried one-person shows jostled for a few minutes' attention. Peggy Ashcroft came from her sick bed to be on stage for 30 seconds. But she had such a good time she stayed in the wings for another 1 l/2 hours. Rock stars The Pet Shop Boys gave their first ever live performance to open the second half while very different music came from conductor Simon Rattle on the piano, soprano Heather Harper accompanied by Geoffrey Parsons, and the Medici String Quartet. Composers included Sir Michael Uppett, Cole Porter, Tchaikovsky, Leonard Bernstein, Peter Maxwell Davies, Francis Poulenc and Benjamin Britten. DV8 Physical Theatre gave an exciting dance performance, and other lesser known names who held their own admirably with the international stars included comedy duo Parker and Klein. The show, produced by 20th Century Vixen, involved 320 performers and other workers. The show ended with a final, breath-taking theatrical line-up of Vanessa Redgrave, Dame Judi Dench, Harold Pinter, Miranda Richardson, Simon Callow, Alec McCowen, Edna O'Brien, Paul Eddington, Alan Bates and Francesca Annis. They read poetry by Marlowe, Tennessee Williams, A E Housman, Maureen Duffy, Cavafy, Auden, Wilde and Sappho. Then the entire cast came on stage and threw pink roses into the audience. Cast and audience stood and applauded each other. -- Graham McKerrow, Capital Gay, 10 June 1988


Banner photo: 5 June 1988
Uncle Freddie (Ian McKellen) and Max (Hugh Quarshie) in a scene from Martin Shermans Bent for Before the Act gala to protest Section 28 Photo by: Bill Short



Next Play: ACTING SHAKESPEARE (London 1988)