Anti-homophobia play at Camden Fringe hopes to prevent discrimination in schools

Before It Starts is an anti-homophobia play about bullying in schools

Before It Starts is an anti-homophobia play about bullying in schools - Credit: Archant

Before It Starts highlights the thin line between bullying and banter

August is like Christmas for thespians, and Edinburgh Fringe is Lourdes.

Ignoring the fact that this simile makes little sense, actors, comedians and theatre-lovers have been gearing up to this for up to a year.

But for those who can’t afford the expense of taking shows to Edinburgh or the time to travel all up there to watch, there’s an alternative much closer to home.

The Camden Fringe has been running annually since its inception in 2006. Set up at the Etcetera Theatre by Zena Barrie and Michelle Flower, it was a small festival in one venue with a little over 20 acts.

A decade later, it returns on August 1, involving 25 venues and more than 250 acts spread from Camden to Highgate, and Crouch End down to Covent Garden.

One of these is Naked Frank Theatre’s Before It Starts at the Camden People’s Theatre.

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It follows the story of young teenage females, whose new school friend comes out as gay.

At first, the girls have a laugh but soon the lines between banter and bullying become blurred.

Written and performed by Carleigh-Ann Portelli, Claire Louise Portelli and Rebecca Briley, the show is a mixture of comedy and physical performance.

The trio attended the East15 acting school, where they trained in physical theatre.

“We use physicality in the show to represent certain stories or emotions,” says Portelli.

“So rather than traditional storytelling, narrative and text, we use physicality to represent it - but it’s not dance.”

As well as the physical aspect, Before It Starts is part verbatim, using true stories spoken on social media or to the cast themselves as well as extracts from their own experiences as teens.

“Some of the events, especially some of the discrimination, are personal,” says Portelli.

“But I’m quite careful that it doesn’t become therapy. It’s about bringing awareness to young people and all people alike that homophobia is something that is going on in a teenage environment.

It’s about looking retrospectively on our teenage years but without it being ‘this is my sob story’.”

From her own experiences growing up, Portelli is conscious of the effect that teen insensitivity can have in later life.

“It’s flippant. When you’re young you don’t think of the consequences.

When you’re 14 and you say something, you might forget by the time you’re 28. But the person you said it to might, at the age of 28, still be affected by it.”

Having worked closely with anti-homophobia charity, Stonewall, she is concerned by the instances of sexuality-based bullying that still exist in schools.

In the wake of attacks on the LGBT community in Orlando, Portelli says it’s important to educate young people on homophobia and its harm.

She believes that we are moving into a generation of people “half of which are accepting and half of which are still closed-minded”, worrying that this will lead to there being many young people who are too afraid to live their lives freely.

So what does Before It Starts hope to achieve with their performance?

“As a company we don’t believe that theatre is going to change the world,” says Portelli.

“But we do believe it can change opinions and if we change enough opinions it might open up people’s minds.”

Before It Starts runs 4-7 August at the Camden People’s Theatre.

The Camden Fringe runs from 1-28 August at venues including Canal Cafe, Rabbit Hole NW3, Cockpit, Aces and Eights, Cecil Sharp House Lion&Unicorn NW5 and Upstairs at the Gatehouse. Tickets