“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.” I was, ignorantly, shocked to hear a recording of these words uttered by Margaret Thatcher on 9 October 1987, played as I entered the King’s Head Theatre last night to watch Dandelion. It seems absurd that just 30 years ago, the Prime Minister of the U.K could say such a thing with essentially no consequences. Months later, in May 1988, Thatcher introduced Clause 28, which banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by local authorities, which included schools. This legislation, and its effects on everyday lives, is what Jennifer Cerys’ Dandelion explores.
Centring on a couple, Ann (Chaiyan Chambers-Paul) and Mary (Orla O’Sullivan), we see how Thatcher’s devastating legislation affects their lives. Ann is a teacher, and sees and experiences first-hand how Thatcher’s toxic views are seeping into the minds of the public, both teachers and students of her school. This narrative, paired with that of her sister Edith (Kimberly Jarvis) coming to collect her from her new life with Mary, which she doesn’t approve of or even believe is serious, under the premise that their mother is ill. Jarvis and Chambers-Paul create a strained sibling relationship. They share what all siblings do: parents, and there are moments of them reminiscing together about their mother that are touching, and suggest there is hope for them yet.
The parallel narrative runs in the secondary school Ann teaches in and sees Thatcher’s blatant homophobia infecting the minds of the teachers and pupils. Chambers-Paul despairs at her powerlessness to protect any potential LGBTQ students from homophobic bullying, and confides in O’Sullivan. As a couple, the two are better at fighting than they are at being in love. Their chemistry, or lack thereof, takes some believability out of the whole thing. Matilda Wood is a caricature of a headmaster, but not in a good way. Moving robotically and putting on a faux-posh voice, the attempt at authority is almost laughable. Katie Shalka is again a caricature only this time as the headmaster’s manipulative, highly sexualised mistress, with the tight pencil skirt and red lipstick to match.
Dandelion relies on quite a few stereotypes, to the point where each character is familiar enough to make that the plot becomes predictable. There is, however, a truly horribly scene depicting a homophobic attack in a classroom that is so loud and so vivid that it is genuinely saddening, made worse by the confined space of the small King’s Head Theatre. But while occasionally uncomfortable to watch, Dandelion uses a diverse and talented cast to demonstrate the attitudes that were allowed to thrive under Clause 28, and how important it is that we’ve moved on from such archaic laws.
Dandelion played at the King’s Head Theatre until 17 December. For more information and tickets, click here.