New play puts LGBTQ characters front and centre, 30 years after Clause 28

A shot from rehearsals of Dandelion, a play which comes to King's Head Theatre on December 16 and 17

A shot from rehearsals of Dandelion, a play which comes to King's Head Theatre on December 16 and 17. - Credit: Archant

Set in 1988, Dandelion tells the story of two LGBTQ people and their struggle to adapt to an uncertain new world. It opens at King’s Head Theatre this weekend.

The play has been written by Jennifer Cerys and produced by the Paperclip Theatre company.

The play has been written by Jennifer Cerys and produced by the Paperclip Theatre company. - Credit: Archant

At the Conservative Party conference of October 1987, Margaret Thatcher said that: “Children are being taught they have an inalienable right to be gay. All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life. Yes, cheated.”

Seven months later, her government passed legislation which made the “promotion of homosexuality” illegal in schools under the controversial Clause 28.

A new play – titled Dandelion – will whisk its audience back to a Margate school in the immediate aftermath, where two LGBTQ characters are forced to pick up the pieces in a new era of enforced silence and oppression. 21-year-old Jennifer Cerys has researched and written the play across the past year.

“In the process of writing it I spoke to people who had lived under Clause 28, and I decided to create a piece set in a school,” she says.

Playwright Jennifer Cerys.

Playwright Jennifer Cerys. - Credit: Archant

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“Dandelion features the two separate stories of a teacher in a committed lesbian relationship and a 16-year-old student who has just had a same-sex kiss. You get to see the impact that Clause 28 has on their lives; it’s like Ann (the teacher) has to go back in to the closet while for Claire (the student), who is still learning about her sexuality, she’s trying to talk to her teacher but there is a barrier up.

“It’s about seeing them try to navigate this restrictive world and find their true identity in an atmosphere where you can’t be honest about your true self.”

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Dandelion is brought to the stage by Paperclip Theatre, a company founded by Adriana Sanford in July 2017. This collective of theatre-makers aims to “put the narrative of lesbian and bisexual women front and centre” in a landscape where their voices are so often relegated to the fringes of a story.

Cerys came out herself at the age of 18 and has found that – aside from books published by authors like Sarah Waters – there simply aren’t enough stories that revolve around a lesbian protagonist.

Rehearsals for Dandelion.

Rehearsals for Dandelion. - Credit: Archant

“Since reading Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests I’ve found very few other stories that have LGBT characters at the centre. It sounds like a cliché, but I wanted to write a show that would have been beneficial for a younger version of me.

“I’ve always loved books and theatres and stories, but if you don’t see characters that you can identify with it can be really isolating. Dandelion is a sad play – it’s set in a time of homophobia – but there are elements of love and the characters finding themselves.”

Clause 28 was written in to law against the backdrop of protests from LGBTQ activists, with some abseiling in to the House of Lords and others staging a high-profile invasion of the BBC’s Six O’Clock News on May 23, 1988. The act was subsequently repealed in Scotland in 2000 and the rest of the UK in 2003, but Cerys says its impact is still felt to a certain extent 15 years later.

“I spoke to a lot of women who have lived under Clause 28 who find the effects are still in place today,” she adds.

Rehearsals for Dandelion.

Rehearsals for Dandelion. - Credit: Archant

“I wasn’t taught anything about LGBTQ people at all, I only left school three-and-a-half years ago, but the idea of coming out whilst studying was so alien.

“For 15 years (while the Clause was in place) the law said that homosexuality was a pretended family relationship, for people living through that – you can’t just shake that off because the law has been repealed.

“Speaking to younger people now, there are LGBTQ support groups in schools which I think shows there has been a shift. The language we use has also shifted, it wasn’t so long ago that the word ‘queer’ was used as an insult.”

Cerys, who originally hails from Whitstable but lives in Bethnal Green, has played an active role in rehearsals, working alongside director Kimberley Jarvis to bring this important story to the stage for two evening performances this weekend – December 16 and 17.

Looking to the future, Cerys says she’d “like to do more LGBT-focused theatre as it has been a really nice experience.

“I feel like I’m part of a community and I’d like to keep telling these stories.”

Dandelion is on at King’s Head Theatre on Sunday (Dec 16) and Monday (Dec 17). More details and tickets here.

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