After its success at Ovalhouse, The Act, created by Matthew Baldwin and Thomas Hescott, is now housed at the ideal venue of Studio 2 at Trafalgar Studios.
This beautifully intimate studio was made for intriguingly intimate performances like this. The performance is stripped down to the point where most of the story invites you to use your imagination. The sound effects are timed perfectly. The stage is at floor level and is decorated with illustrations. Props are minimal, but effective, and the best part is your closeness to the performance regardless of where you are seated. In fact, at Studio 2, there are only 100 seats surrounding the stage area.
Matthew Baldwin, the only actor, doesn’t need anyone else. He effortlessly weaves in and out of reminisces, anecdotes and scenes from a handful of interesting characters. The most poignant is Matthews, a smart and mesmerizingly honest civil servant, who pinpoints moments in his life with patches of humour and seriousness. One particular encounter of his leads to a shocking exposure of how homosexuality was perceived by law and society in a time not so long ago. A notable example of this is when Matthews is interrogated with personal questions such as “are you an invert?”
Among these scenes we hear extracts associated with the 1957 Wolfenden Report, which eventually led to the decriminalisation of homosexual behaviour in 1967. This only really became the very beginning of social change at a time where men like Matthews fled to the communities of Soho just to meet their own kind of people, judgement free.
You see The Act in fragments, which for a minimalistic one-man show, keeps it a stimulating performance. Even more so when we are quite unexpectedly treated to different versions of songs such as ‘Danny Boy’ (in this case, ‘Fanny Boy’), ‘Rough Trade’ to the tune of ‘Greensleeves’ and ‘Habanera’ from the opera Carmen.
For a show that couldn’t have been more than 70 minutes long, The Act proves that less is more, particularly when a point is trying to be made. You don’t need a full cast and a grandeur set to show people the plight of homosexuals during the 1950s and 1960s. Besides, Matthew Baldwin alone is brilliant and captivating. He makes all his characters so human, showing every emotion and a revealing perspective not everybody would have seen before.
A whole mixture of people attended the show and, though the subject of homosexuality may not be interesting to everyone, The Act can be enjoyed by anybody as illustrating an important part of social history.
Review by Francesca Jones
1967. In Westminster the men in suits are putting the finishing touches to the freedoms we take for granted. In Soho, the men in bars are putting the finishing touches to their hairdos. Caught between these worlds is Matthews, a civil servant with a big heart and a big secret.
Sex and politics collide in The Act, a ground-breaking cabaret-style production comprised of personal anecdotes, verbatim House of Commons speeches and song in a captivating tour-de-force performance by Matthew Baldwin.
Venue: Trafalgar Studios
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.45pm
Matinees: Thursday and Saturday 3.00pm
Running Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Show Opened: 25th February 2014
Booking Until: 29th March 2014
Friday 14th March 2013