Testosterone, VAULT Festival

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by Meredith Jones Russell

Testosterone is an explosive, energetic, riotous exploration of all things male, asking what exactly it means to be a man.

Rhum and Clay Theatre Company has teamed up with Kit Redstone, who wrote the play based on his own experiences as a trans man, and stars as himself. We meet him as he prepares to walk in to that bastion of machismo – the men’s locker room at the gym – for the first time.

The ensuing examination of maleness is slickly and often hilariously portrayed through physical theatre, monologues, music and flashbacks, all held together by Redstone’s recollections of his real-life experiences, and his resulting thoughts and questions about gender and sexuality. From men suggestively mixing their protein shakes right by their crotch, to the camaraderie (verging on homoeroticism) of a football pitch, to an inspired use of red balloons to question why men don’t (won’t? can’t?) cry, the show in turns ridicules and celebrates, but ultimately questions, perceived notions of masculinity.

We are transported into the posing, competitive world of the gym; the mirrors against the back wall allow the men to preen and pose but also invite us all to look at ourselves and each other to consider Redstone’s opening question – does what we look like on the outside affect who we are on the inside, or vice versa?

The group works outstandingly together, never missing a beat, perfectly attuned to what the other three are doing. Redstone is fantastic – riveting and realistic, extraordinary while simultaneously entirely ordinary. This contrasts superbly with the constructed, deliberately two-dimensional representations of elements of manhood  portrayed by the rest of the cast. William Donaldson gives the surprise of the evening in a fabulously, perhaps unexpectedly, understated portrayal of both female characters and feminine elements of masculinity. Artistic directors of Rhum and Clay, Julian Spooner and Matthew Wells, are the backbone of the piece; they show off some sublime physical comedy and beautifully realised situations, from amusing bromances up to the tense John Wayne-style showdown that finishes the piece.

It’s an extraordinary piece of theatre – thought-provoking, powerful, emotional, and a highly enjoyable one too. Not to be missed.

Testosterone runs through 28 February.

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