Acting Out: Celebrating LGBTQ Theatre of the 1970s and 80s

New Playreadings at Newington Green and Hackney Archives

On Thurs 28th September at Newington Green Meeting House Unfinished Histories present a staged reading of Raising the Wreck by Sue Frumin, directed by Runa Augdal
Journey into the heart of a sunken pirate ship, where four fierce female pirates, Irish, African, Chinese and English, recount their stories with a woman who has fallen into a timeslip from 1980s London, where she is one of the women running a pirate radio station. Originally produced in 1985 by Gay Sweatshop’s women’s company.

‘The actresses were so good…. Not only did they create such compelling characters but they had a great chemistry and a fast banter. The play was sparking with jokes and the ensemble got the timing exactly right for the audience to laugh.’ (Audience member at the first showing of this staged reading)

Accompanies the exhibition Acting Out: Celebrating LGBTQ Theatre of the 1970s and 80s – see below. Closing event 6 to 8pm Fri 29th Sept

On Sat 28th October at Hackney Archives as part of their Black History Month events Unfinished Histories will present a third outing for their acclaimed staged reading of Jackie Kay‘s 1986 play Chiaroscuro

Flyer designed by Ingrid Pollard and Lenthall Road Workshop

Unfinished Histories remount their successful staged reading of Jackie Kay’s Chiaroscuro, the first Black lesbian play to be staged in Britain, at Hackney Archives on Saturday 28th October at 7.30 (tickets free but bookable here) Originally staged in 1986 by the ground-breaking Dalston-based Theatre of Black Women. Directed by Olusola Oyeleye, produced by Susan Croft, the innovative play draws on poetry, music, poetry, dance, improvised music, as four women explore lesbian identity.

The event will be accompanied by two small exhibitions:

Theatre of Black Women in rehearsal: an exhibition of photos and posters from the 1980s  by Suzanne Roden and designer Helena Roden from the original rehearsal process with Bernardine Evaristo, Jacqueline de Peza, Vinny Dhillon and Ella Wilder, directed by Joan-Ann Maynard.


Black Theatre in Britain: 1950s to 2020s – flyers, articles, programmes and photographs from Unfinished Histories collections on Black performance.

Both run at Hackney Archives throughout October 2023


Acting Out: Celebrating LGBTQ Theatre of the 1970s and 80s returns
This exhibition, curated by Susan Croft and originally seen at Hackney Archives for LGBTQ+ History Month (see details at end of this page) returns in July, this time at Newington Green Meeting House, 39A Newington Green, London N16 9PR in the Wollstonecraft Room where it will open on 6th July and run till the end of August – Thursdays and Fridays 12.00 till 18.00 p.m. The exhibition features a host of posters from BloolipsGay SweatshopCharacter Ladies, DET Enterprises, Theatre of Black WomenBrixton Faeries, even Belt and Braces (!) and many others, including key US influences Split Britches and Hot Peaches, plus some rarely seen photographs. Visitors to it at Hackney Archives said: ‘Brilliant!’ ‘Fascinating’ ‘Great to see such a display of all the theatre groups, writers, performers. Memory here. Inspiring. Liberating. Well done!’

The exhibition is available to tour to other venues. If you would be interested in booking it for next year’s History Month, to accompany a production later this year, or for another reason please email for details.

Originally staged as part of the re-opening of the original Soho Poly theatre space  (where the show originally opened) at University of Westminster in June 2023, the reading of Chiaroscuro was originally made possible thanks to the generous support of the Quintin Hogg Trust and Westminster City Council (Culture and Community Grant) and was part of the Soho Poly Summer Festival 2023, the reading was restaged in July at Newington Green Meeting House.


In 1975 Inter-Action hosted Homosexual Acts the first Gay Theatre season in Britain. It took place at the Almost Free Theatre in Rupert St, W1 and featured 5 plays all by men. Fuelled by the energy of the Gay Liberation Front it was a huge success. Further plays were added including Martin Sherman’s Passing By, which featured a young Simon Callow who later wrote in My Life in Pieces: ‘[It] was my first experience of political theatre. Though in essence a very sweet account of a passing love affair between two young men, it was utterly radical in offering no apology or explanation for the affair, like any other. The effect on the predominantly gay audience was sensational – they wept, not because it was sad, but because it was the first time they’d seen their own lives represented on the stage without inverted commas, with neither remorse nor disgust.’

Out of the success of the season came Gay Sweatshop the first out gay theatre company in Britain. The following year a group of lesbians joined them to tour Britain in Jill Posener’s Any Woman CanJulie Parker who was part of that tour remembers: ‘ we’d go to places in England and again the local right-wing would come out and picket and threaten, and there’d be all the letters in the papers, and people heckling in the audience, and then, there’d be all of the women … who would come up to you and talk to you afterwards and who were in tears at the show and said, ‘That’s me, that’s my story, that’s my life,’ and ‘I’ve never met people like you before.’ People would come out and you would understand why you were doing it.

From these beginnings grew the LGBTQ theatre of today that has changed and challenged  perceptions, telling untold stories, introducing new theatre vocabularies, confronting prejudice, celebrating difference. Unfinished Histories is a Hackney-based project that gathers the oral history and the archives of the alternative theatre movement of the 1970s and 80s, including political, community, street, feminist, LGBTQ, Black, Asian theatres, Disability Arts, experimental work, a radical activist movement which set out to challenge who theatre was made by and for, what it looked like and where it was seen, finding and creating new venues and taking shows to new audiences in marginalised spaces and places. As well as gathering the archive and the memories of those who were there, Unfinished Histories works to share that history with a new generation through readings, exhibitions, workshops discussions, and has created an extensive web site where users can view extracts from interviews and find out more about numerous companies and LGBTQ+ interviewees like directors Julie Parker, Kate Crutchley, playwrights Bryony Lavery, Noel Greig, Philip Osment, performers like Ian Townson of Brixton Faeries and Lavinia Co-op of Bloolips, designer Mary Moore, the women of lesbian feminist theatre company and band Siren, and many others.

For LGBTQIA+ History Month 2023 in conjunction with Hackney Archives UH hosted an exhibition reproducing iconic posters from the ground-breaking early days of the lesbian and gay theatre in the 1970s and 80s from Gay Sweatshop and Bloolips to Character Ladies and Siren. Also on display were a range of books and a book and resource list from Homosexual Acts that accompanied that first Gay Theatre season in Britain in 1975 to shows like Iman Qureshi’s The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs in 2022.

The Acting Out exhibition initially ran at Hackney Archives, CLR James Library, Dalston Square, E8 3BQ from 1st Feb till Wed 8th March 2.00 a.m. till 6.00 p.m.  (Wed to Fri, plus some Saturdays)

The exhibition is bookable to tour to other venues. For details please email contact at