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Ian Giles - On Railton Road Interview

In 1970s Brixton, these gays want to set the old world on fire.

Ian Giles and Louis Rembges’ critically acclaimed play is a hedonistic drama about the lives and loves of the pioneering queer squatters who fought for a place to call home. 

Based on real events, Museum of the Home presents this bold new production with an exciting ensemble cast and music by Sophie Crawford. A powerful and moving story of queer communities in Brixton, On Railton Road is the first theatre production to be staged at Museum of the Home.

Previous production photography

I spoke with Ian Giles ahead of the run to discuss the piece further.
What inspired your work On Railton Road?
As an artist I studied at the Slade and I make work about queer histories as a way to engage with my LGBTQI+ past and to share it with others. My practice involves periods of research and then I collaborate with queer creatives to bring ideas to life.

In the 1970s roughly 60 gay men squatted in houses in Brixton on Mayall road and Railton road. Amazingly Ian Townson and some of his fellow squatters interviewed each other at the time. I was able to read over 700 pages of conversations by the men who lived together. I was drawn to their vitality: they opened a Gay Centre, they established a helpline called Icebreakers, they made a communal garden and they even ran for local election! They were active and they were trying to lead positive change. These accounts are the basis for the characters in our play. 

You use archival interviews in the production but what research did you have to do when developing the piece?
I spent time with men still living in the houses on Railton road who formed the Brixton Co-operative Housing in the early 1980s. The work that the squatters did is still alive today. The houses in the heart of Brixton are designated as LGBTQI+ homes for people with housing needs. 
I also worked with puppet designer Oliver James Hymans who helped bring to life ‘Mr Punch’s Nuclear Family’, an original play written by Brixton Faeries from 1975. Our show resurrects this original script as part of the play – creating a play within a play. In rehearsals we used their original handwritten script as a guide whilst also granting ourselves creative freedom to be larger than life, to channel the chaotic, pantomime atmosphere of the squatters play. It's fun to do - there are giant noses, telescopic police arms (the long arm of the law!) and gay ghosts. It's bombastic, chilling and funny.  

You’ve been working on the piece for a few years now. How has it shaped and grown since then to now?
With the support of the Jerwood New Work Fund we performed the play for five nights in a battered community hall in the heart of Brixton’s former squatting community in 2021. The hall was like a premade set, full of atmosphere and history. There was a strong sense that people enjoyed our story of queer joy and that more people wanted to see it than we had seats for.  So we were excited when the Museum of the Home in east London suggested us doing 15 performances in their large gallery space. Aurelien Enjalbert, the curator at the museum has supported us to remount the production and funding from the Arts Council has allowed us to bring in more talent so we can expand the production values, costumes, set and music.

Previous production photography

You founded the troupe The Brixton Pansies, how important was that to the process?
Working under the company name ‘Brixton Pansies’, I formed a theatre troupe of actors, makers and musicians, this initiative mirrors the lively street theatre groups that were formed by the squatters themselves in the 1970s. They presented their plays at local schools, on marches and at the Oval House Theatre. I also drew the upon the ethos of groups such as Gay Sweatshop and Bloolips who made brash and unapologetic theatre to share their experiences and grievances with a wider public and fellow gays. 

The group of performers I am collaborating with is an ever evolving group of actors who I have worked with previously when making films, as well as some exciting new members – I always hold an open casting call at the start of a project. I like to work with other LGBTQI+ people who signal that they are interested in the same topics as me and want to bring their energy to the table. 

What do you hope an audience member takes away from seeing the show?
The 70s get left out of queer history or are over shadowed by the 1980s and by AIDS and then Thatcher. There was a brilliant sense of positive queer energy in the 1970s. Gay sex had be partially decriminalised and with it these gay men in South London desided it was time for them to be seen. It's the time of the Gay Liberation Front and a period when queer people started to find their feet. 

What keeps you inspired?
The moment in a rehearsal room when an actor brings the text to life and I get goosebumps - that's when I feel present. 

Can you describe the piece in 3 words?

On Railton Road runs at The Museum of the Home in
London from 3rd until 18th November. Tickets are available from

Ian Giles. Photo by Rob Harris 

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