Plays celebrated LGBT history

The cast of The Burnley Buggers Ball, taken by Nicolas Chinardet. (s)
The cast of The Burnley Buggers Ball, taken by Nicolas Chinardet. (s)

Gauges for tolerance, the two plays at Burnley Library last Saturday celebrated the mobilisation of ordinary folk in the fight for gay rights.

The shows of course measured how far the movement has come, but as today’s threads of tolerance unravel, they also documented LGBT history in its own right and proudly cemented its place as part of the town’s heritage.

The Burnley Buggers’ Ball by Stephen M. Hornby depicted a historic meeting set in the library in 1971 on the establishment of the first ever social clubs supporting gay men.

Realistic the show was, garnering heat through its immersive style and capturing the full spectrum of feeling, from radical support to chilling homophobia.

Abi Hynes’ Burnley’s Lesbian Liberator was the vibrant tale of Mary Winter, a bus driver who assembles women’s groups across the country in protest of her dismissal for nothing more than wearing a gay rights badge.

The tone of both shows was certainly celebratory but still they were cut with anxiety.

Wedding the political with the personal, the productions were not only reminders some fights must be revisited but also proof that no triumph – small or large – should be swallowed up under the weight of history.

While many past sources recorded homosexuality as an illness or crime, Hornby and Hynes’ adaptations - returning the colour to these real-life events - were awash with vitality, bursting with dynamic storytelling, sharp wit and rich characters bubbling with emotion.

And if a language for the LGBT experience is only just forming, these two writers are helping to broaden its boundaries by immersing it in both rich, eloquent vocabulary and a literary life of grit and hope.

I can only applaud plays like these for giving the LGBT community control over the language used to define and contain it.