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Stephen Hornby: Islington's Pride archive has enough material for five feature films

PUBLISHED: 15:30 03 April 2019

No History... took place at the Young Actors Theatre in March. Picture: Em Fitzgerald / Islington's Pride Archive.

No History... took place at the Young Actors Theatre in March. Picture: Em Fitzgerald / Islington's Pride Archive.

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Last month, the Young Actors Theatre Islington hosted the first production of The No History of the Near Not Now, a play written by the multi award-winning Stephen Hornby. The 60-minute performance celebrated Islington’s extensive history for furthering LGBTQ+ causes.

Stephen Hornby (right) with Martin McGloghry. Picture: Stephen Hornby.Stephen Hornby (right) with Martin McGloghry. Picture: Stephen Hornby.

In November 1984, Labour’s representative for Islington South & Finsbury – Chris Smith – made history by becoming the first openly gay MP.

His announcement – which drew a standing ovation from most of those present at a rally in the West Midlands – came 14 years after Highbury Fields had staged the first public gay rights protest, and two before the late Bob Crossman became the borough’s (and this country’s) first openly gay Mayor.

One of the first same-sex weddings was held at Islington Town Hall in March 2014; rubber-stamping the borough’s place at the forefront of gay activism in the UK.

All of this information and much more has been stowed away in the Islington’s Pride archive, which playwright Stephen Hornby tapped in to for his most recent work: The No History of the Near Not Now.

The cast for The No History of the Near Not Now, with Stephen Hornby at the back in the middle. Picture: Islington's Pride.The cast for The No History of the Near Not Now, with Stephen Hornby at the back in the middle. Picture: Islington's Pride.

“So much queer heritage has been lost, pictures burnt, diaries shredded, lofts cleared,” he explains.

“LGBTQ+ people have been taught a self-censoring, self-erasing version of their own history. That’s why this project has been so important.”

Hornby’s piece was performed for the first time by students from the Young Actors Theatre Islington on March 23 and 24. Directed by Matt Hassell, No History… is set in a near alternative future, where the past is not the past anymore and all that is left of history is the ‘not now.’

“The play is an attempt to engage with the archive material, to find a way to communicate it dramatically and bring it to life so that it becomes something entertaining,” adds Hornby.

The aim of the 60-minute performance was “not to focus on the most obvious ones, but try and find some of the stories that had been a little bit overlooked, and pull those out.”

Hornby hopes to bring No History… back as a podcast and a longer play, and says it should appeal to “anyone with an interest in the history of Islington.”

“(The first two shows) went down a storm! We had two young audiences, with councillors, people involved in the development of the archive, and we had Martin McGloghry – Bob Crossman’s partner from the time and the Mayor’s consort. He loved it so much that he came both nights – it was lovely to see him and connect with him about what he thought of it.”

Islington’s Pride was funded by a £366,400 award from the Heritage Lottery Fund to archive and share materials from the mid 20th century to the present day. Hornby enjoyed bringing a small part of it to the stage, but acknowledges he is just scratching the surface.

“This was a bit of a proof of concept, given that it’s such a vast and eclectic archive and there are so many great stories. How do you turn that in to a 60-minute performance, when there’s enough for five feature films or 10 plays?!”

For more information about the Islington’s Pride archive, click here.

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