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The Act (Trafalgar Studios)

Matthew Baldwin and Thomas Hescott's one-man play centring on the 1967 decriminalisation of homosexuality has transferred to the Trafalgar Studios from Ovalhouse

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Matthew Baldwin
© Robert Workman

I suppose, one day, people in this country, and perhaps every country, will find it absurd to think that one person could not be free to love another of their choosing.

The fact that The Act was co-created by Matthew Baldwin and Thomas Hescott in this decade reminds us of three things: That it was not that long ago that homosexual acts were a criminal offence; that some still reject homosexual relationships and that many people in the world today are still not free to pursue them without fear of persecution.

When the play begins with Matthew Baldwin's contemporary character bemoaning the prospect of a tiresome social engagement with 'the super gays' - they have it all and have done it all - one is temporarily lulled into thinking that this will be a light piece: perhaps a comic and well observed take on modern life for young professionals who happen to be gay. But the play's meaning becomes clearer when we see Baldwin take on the character of a parliamentarian debating the Wolfenden Report which recommended the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in 1957.

Here is the same actor talking about 'The Act' in clinical, cold terms, and we are reminded by the echo of his delivery, that this is the relatively recent past: of course things have changed, but this is in living memory.

Through five different characters, Baldwin gives us a series of perspectives on a recent social history. The most memorable passages are those where the characters' loneliness and despair at being denied their freedom is very raw. This play is very specifically about homosexuality but Baldwin's portrayal of these emotions is transcendent: his performance ensures that this is a story about humanity. It is amusing in parts, certainly moving and generally original.

For an 80 minute one-man play, the play seems to pass at pace. The only times I felt any limitations in the piece were during the musical interludes: Baldwin has a lovely voice and there are moments where the music matches the quality of the dialogue, but overall they seem to take on a tone which is too light to really move the story forward.

The Act is playing at Trafalgar Studios 2 until the 29th of March


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