by Jim Palmer, leisure editor Last updated 13:04 Wednesday 24 June 2015
News Shopper: Photograph of the Author by Jim Palmer, leisure editor
A Beckenham dramatist has won rave reviews for his play about controversial legislation which banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools.
Chris Woodley’s Next Lesson looks at the affects of Thatcher’s notorious Section 28, which came into force in 1988 and was not repealed until 2003.
It is a portrait of a south London secondary school and focuses on Michael, a gay student, from his first day in 1988 through to becoming a teacher at the school.
When it debuted at The Pleasance Theatre in April, Gay Times gave Next Lesson a five star review.
The topic was an important one for Chris to write about.
The 33-year-old said: “Section 28 has had a huge effect on many LGBT young people at that time who simply couldn’t talk about who they were and what they felt in school. It’s heart breaking.
“The repeal of Section 28 came incredibly late and I feel it left a really confused feeling in our education system about what could and could not be discussed in schools.
“Even today the way in which we deliver Sex and Relationship Education in this country needs to be addressed; without open and honest conversations about SRE we are at risk of failing LGBT young people.”
The play’s subject is one that Chris knows well: before he turned to theatre full time hewas a drama teacher for six years.
He said: “When I was teenager I was very badly bullied during the time this legislation was in power.
“So as an adult in my twenties it was quite a moment to return to Bromley as an out gay teacher and see what had and hadn’t changed in the education system.”
He added: “People often think that the central figure in the play Michael is based on me, when in fact the smaller stories around Michael’s journey are loosely based on personal events.
“Nearly every scene has a character or a plot line that is taken from my life as a student or teacher.
“Aspects of the story have to be changed to protect the innocent. The scene that’s most personal is the scene in particular where a Head of Drama is challenged by a parent about directing a play with gay characters in it.”
Chris grew up in Beckenham and attended Marian Vian Primary School then Langley Park School for Boys.
He said: “Langley wasn’t the best place for a gay teenager growing up in the nineties so I left Langley after my GCSEs and went to The BRIT School.
“The BRIT School was and still is the most outstanding school for anyone that wants to get into a creative industry.
“It brought me back to life after quite a tough time at school. On the opening night of the show my first drama teacher from Marian Vian attended and the Principal of BRIT School, it was lovely to have such incredible support.”
Perhaps it’s unsurprising given his strong links to the area, but Chris made sure Next Lesson was firmly rooted in the borough.
He said: “I really wanted the play to have a strong geographical identity so Next Lesson has lots of references to Bromley.
“There are references that include Beckenham War Memorial, The Churchill Theatre even News Shopper gets a mention.”
Hyphen Theatre Company present Next Lesson written by Chris Woodley on at The Pleasance Islington in October 2015. Go to hyphentheatre.com