Review: Hasbian at Omnibus Theatre ★★★★ 

A coming-of-age comedy about growing up queer under Section 28. 

Hasbian | Omnibus Theatre | Until 29 June 2024 | £15/13

It is a truth universally acknowledged that most teens, at one point or another, start a diary to work through the highs and lows of their teenage years. And just imagine the added drama when you’re an out, proud lesbian growing up in ‘queer friendly’ Brighton in the Noughties…  

Written and performed by Beth Watson, ‘Hasbian’ uses their real teenage diary to explore themes of identity, sexuality, and discrimination, set against a soundtrack of bubblegum pop and angsty indie anthems. We get to hear all about cringey secret crushes, some surprising sexual encounters, and a gradual realisation that Watson might also like… boys! 

But this is no simple diary reading (you can experience that at Watson’s regular event ‘Queer Diary’ where LGBTQ+ folk get to share their teenage writings). The piece uses a clever framing device with adult Watson reflecting on their teenage years throughout. They quite literally step into their teenage shoes to unpick their personal journey, drawing parallels between past and present LGBTQ+ challenges, including the ongoing impact of Section 28 to this day.  

The production also skillfully integrates both audio description and surtitles. Giant ‘notepads’ frame the stage displaying scrapbook-style text and images of 2000s celebrities, cleverly representing the cast of friends and enemies throughout Watson’s diary entries. Designer Edalia Day has done a wonderful job with the design here, adding a very clear style to the production overall. It’s a bit ‘Clarissa Explains It All’, if Clarissa was talking about having gay sex at sleepovers and seeing their Geography teacher in hot pants at Brighton Pride. To see access so thoroughly and thoughtfully integrated throughout the piece was proof that accessibility doesn’t just have to be ‘tacked on top’ – bravo team! 

Solid direction from P Burton-Morgan ensures there is joyful comedy throughout, especially during Watson’s enthusiastic and engaging interactions with us. Audience participation adds to the fun, and Watson is simply charming in these little moments of ad lib. There are a few moments where audio / visual timing in the projections or transitional movement between sections become a little sticky, but the more Watson acknowledges these, the funnier it becomes. It somehow feels right – awkward teenage vibes filtering through into the now.  

‘Hasbian’ isn’t just nostalgic fluff though. Late 90s and early 2000s references will obviously delight those who lived through them, but a much wider audience will certainly relate to the ups and downs of teenage life whatever their age. The piece is at its most moving when Watson can reflect on the more complicated parts of their teenage writing, when homophobia, bi-erasure, and denial creep in between the blank spaces on the page. It’s obvious that the piece means a lot to Watson, not just because it is so personal, but because it is a way to reach out to their community and beyond.  

‘Hasbian’ asks us to reflect on how far we’ve come, how much is still left to fight for as history starts to repeat itself, and encourages us to create space where all the “friends of Dorothy” can feel like they belong. A perfect way to round out your Pride month. 

Hasbian runs at Omnibus Theatre until Saturday 29 June, 2024.