Brixton Faeries

Company name: South London Gay Liberation Theatre Group, later Brixton Faeries

Founders: Members of the South London Gay Liberation Group. Company included: Stephen Gee, Colm Clifford, Michael O’Dwyer, Alastair Kerr, Ian Townson, Julian Hows, Jamie Dunbar, Bill Thornycroft, John Lloyd, Jim Ennis, Peter Bradley, Terry Crabtree, Colin Gleeson, Chris Ransom.

Established: 1974

Reason: Brixton Faeries, as one of many activities funded and supported by the South London Gay Community Centre, was a means to expose the bigotry, prejudice and segregation that society imposed upon homosexuals, and explored/ experimented with an openly gay identity. The South London Gay Liberation Theatre Group’s first production, Mr.Punch’s Nuclear Family (1975) was, according to one of its founding members, ‘an amateur production with a specific aim in mind: taking to a larger audience than just a specifically gay one a snapshot of the workings of gay oppression’ (Ian Townson, Drama Queens).

Current Status: Disbandedin the early 1980s for its members to pursue other projects

Area of work: Gay Theatre

Policy: The company, with its topical plays, aimed to portray the homophobic forces active at the time in a humorous style, rejecting a homosexual integration at the border of society in favour of radical self-identity. ‘The practice was very much to outrage and challenge the eternal verities of bourgeois conventions that were deeply embedded in the lives of Norman Normal and Clarissa Conformist.’ (Ian Townson, Drama Queens)

Structure: Cooperative. All of Brixton Faeries’ members contributed ideas and skills into the productions.

Based: South London Gay Community Centre, 78 Railton Road, Brixton, London. 155 Railton Road from 1976, after the centre was evicted.

Funding: Privately funded by its members and supporters. The Gay Centre applied for a grant from Lambeth Council in 1977, which was refused. Dance and cabaret events in the South London area were organised to fundraise money for the Gay Liberation Centre and its activities.

Performance venues: Mainly fringe theatres, community centres, pensioners’ groups. Community festivals and Gay Pride events in London. Venues included: Oval House, Waterloo Action Centre, Lambeth Town Hall, Fulham Town Hall, The Ritzy Cinema, Brixton and performances for CHE (Campagin for Homosexual Equality Conferences) and the Young Communist League.

Company Work and Process:
The South London Gay Liberation Theatre Group (SLGLTG) was founded by members of the South London Gay Community Centre in 1974.

‘Brixton Faeries produced street theatre, five plays and a number of sketches and revues from 1976 to the early 1980s under the original cumbersome but politically sober name, of the South London Gay Liberation Theatre Group. With a cross-fertilisation of different influences at work, the productions were highly entertaining if somewhat variable in the effective development of character and plot, though in the first instance it was not the group’s objective to produce professional drama. With a concern more for understanding the nature of anti-gay forces at work in society and the lessons to be drawn from the experiences of gay people, incorporating some of our own experiences, we unashamedly projected onto the screen of community theatre an active engagement with and disavowal of the narrowing, destructive confines of anti-gay prejudice and bigotry.’ (Ian Townson, Drama Queens)

‘We drew our inspiration from many different sources. Pantomime allowed us the latitude for playfulness and clowning around. Agitprop and street theatre pressed us more in the direction of immediacy in getting our politics across to the audience in a succinct and instructive way. Radical drag and elements of more traditional camp drag acts on the ‘straight’ gay scene gave us the ability to branch out into fantasy land and indulge in ironic and challenging views of ‘straight’ life. The creativity of individuals who were engaged in ‘performance art’ was given expression through the opportunity to build their acts into the plays, and the modern dance movements we had learned to express at a gay centre group, were also incorporated.’ (Ian Townson, Drama Queens)

Inspired by the work of other gay companies such as Gay Sweatshop, Bloolips and Hot Peaches, the SLGLTG developed performances that would engage with the local community. ‘We believed that theatre was as good a weapon as any in the fight against the forces working to keep gay people down and out.’ (Ian Townson, Drama Queens)

Brixton Faeries came to produce most of its plays in an agitprop style, whilst addressing topics and events that were relevant to the gay community at the time. The first play, Mr. Punch’s Nuclear Family (1975), was inspired by the traditional Punch and Judy kid’s show. The production depicted a society founded on patriarchal values and morals, where violence towards emancipated women and gays was justified. The second production, Out of It (1976), explored the interconnections between patriarchal society, fascism (National Front) and its moral wing, the Festival of Light/National Viewers’ and Listeners’Association with Mary Whitehouse as a leading light, who later came to prosecute Gay News for blasphemous libel. ‘This production was much more sophisticated and varied in terms of its structure and themes, and clearly responsive to a wider current of a more public and explicit opposition to gay people. Out of It attempted to expose gay oppression expressed through different ideologies – political, religious, medical and familial – while at the same time attempting to show the motivating factors behind the desire for order and discipline that became so easily exploited by right-wing, fascist organisation’ (Ian Townson, Drama Queens).

Minehead Revised or The Warts That Dared to Speak Their Name (1979) was ‘based on a historical event that blazed a trail in media queer-bashing, the trial of Jeremy Thorpe on a charge of conspiracy to murder. This play attempted the exploration of the complexities of political power and class privilege surrounding the trial and the part played by the media in putting homosexuality in the dock of public execration’ (Ian Townson, Drama Queens). The events, described by David Steel, former leader of the Liberal Party, as a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, was rendered by the Faeries in the shape of a revised Macbeth, with journalistic accounts incorporated into the script. The South London Gay Liberation group went on to picket the Old Bailey while the trial was on and wrote an open letter to Thorpe exhorting him to come out publicly as gay.

In 1980, Brixton Faeries produced Gents, a workshop production developed at Oval House. Gents looked into the world of cottaging with the aim of celebrating this clandestine practice: ‘People thought that radical gays were giving respectable gays a bad name…Gents is about men having sex with men in public toilets… it was the only place where they could meet. Clubs were not very hospitable, expensive, were usually run by straight people and were not very gay-friendly. But [Gents] is also about men who didn’t want necessarily to be identified as gay…[cottaging] was a clandestine way of having sex. We [Brixton Faeries] had no intention of being respectable, and far from condemning people [who cottaged], we celebrated it. We built a toilet on stage as part of the scenery, with urine stains and everything. We were not going to be pushed into a corner where you get this division between respectable gay people and radical gay people’ (Ian Townson, 2013). Read Ian Townson’s piece on Brixton Faeries on Urban 75

Personal appraisal and thoughts:
‘Disco was still all the rage and it seemed like we were never going to stop dancing. Gay Sweatshop Theatre Company was pumping out great shows, as were Bloolips. Hot Peaches, the American theatre group, had made a tour of England and Germany and as a result, we were all inspired by their production The Divas of Sheridan Square. So much so that Brixton Faeries theatre company was formed. We were Cultured, Radical and ready to take on the World…’ (Terry Stewart, 2012, Urban 75)
If you want to read Terry Stewart’s account of the Brixton Faeries and Gay Pride 1978, please follow the link: Urban 75 (in Comments section at the end)


Mr Punch's Nuclear Family
Devised and directed: Brixton Faeries
Cast: John Lloyd, David, Bernie, Paul Newton, Colm Clifford, Alistar Kerr, Ian Townson
South London Gay Community Centre, Community Festival at the Effra Parade Primary School1975
Out of It
Devised and directed: Brixton Faeries
Cast: Edwin Henshaw, Terry Stewart, Ian Townson, Stephen Gee, Alistar Kerr, David Simpson, Bill Thornycroft
Oval House, Waterloo Action Centre, Young Communist League1975/76
Tomorrow’s too Late
Devised and directed: Brixton Faeries
Cast: Peter Bradley, Jamie Dunbar, Stephen Gee, Julian Hows, Colm Clifford
Lighting and sound: Mathew Jones
Music: Stephen Gee (piano), songs -Mathew Jones, Julian Hows, Colm Clifford
Design: Mathew Jones, Julian Hows, Jack Thompson
Minehead Revisited or The Warts That Dared to Speak their Name
Devised: Brixton Faeries
Directed: Stephen Gee and Brixton Faeries
Cast: Stephen Gee, Colm Clifford, Michael O'Dwyer, Ian Townson, Julian Hows, Malcolm Watson, Jamie Dunbar, Bill Thornycroft, Jim Ennis
Waterloo Action Centre (Gay Pride Week 1979), Oval House Theatre, CHE conference1979
Devised: Brixton Faeries
Directed: Brixton Faeries
Cast: Bill Thornycroft, Peter Bradley, Colm Clifford, Terry Crabtree, Colin Gleeson, Ian Townson, Richard McCance
Songs: Bradford Gay Liberation Theatre Group, Colm Clifford, Bill Thornycroft, Terry Crabtree
Lighting: Matthew Jones, Ron Buggins
Costumes: David Withby
Conceived as a production/workshop for Oval House
Performed at Oval House, March/April 1980
Theatre Space, William IV St. WC2, 26-29 June 1980 (part of Gay Pride Week 1980)
South Bank Polythechnic 11 Dec 1980
Why Spoil a Nice Evening Like This?
Devised and directed: Brixton Faeries
Cast: Julian Hows, Bill Thornycroft, Richard O’Neill
Oval House 22-23 June 1981(part of the Gay Pride Week 1981)1981

Interviewee reference: Ian Townson.

Links: The Brixton Fairies and The South London Gay Community Centre, Brixton 1974-6 by Ian Townson, and
Fighting on All Fronts 1978  by Terry Stewart are available here: Urban 75

Existing Archive Material: Ian Townson’s extensive personal archives on the South London Gay Liberation Centre, including material on the Brixton Fairies, is located at the Hall-Carpenter Archive, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Drama Queens by Ian Townson; located at the Hall-Carpenter Archive, LSE, London
Revolting Queers, a Memory of South London Gay Liberation by Peter Cross, in Goodbye to London: Radical Art and Politics in the ‘70s (ed. Astrid Proll, Atje Cantz:2010)

Acknowledgements: This page has been written and constructed by Sara Scalzotto, with much gratitude to Ian Townson, Brixton Faeries, co-founder and member.

The creation of this page was supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.