There’s Something in the Water, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

by Laura Kressly

In transphobic discourse, trans people are feared and consequently monstered. In these bigots’ brains, they are positioned outside the gender binary and labeled ‘not normal’. Canadian trans nonbinary theatremaker SE Grummett (they/them) first satirises what is considered normal within traditional gender roles, then creates a simple folktale where trans people as superheroes. They uses puppetry, audience interaction and live feed video projection along with monologues to both hilarious and profound effect.

First, Grummet demonstrates that they were classified as a girl at birth establishes the social expectations of each gender. This is reinforced by an interactive puppet show where a Barbie and Ken doll go on a date. The audience is instructed to evaluate every detail as ‘normal’ or ‘not normal’ and call out their judgement. Though this collectively recognises gender norms that everyone has internalised, it also ridicules them and notes which ones are problematic. There are moments that are extremely funny, particularly when Barbie and Ken do something ridiculous like intertwine their toes in a posh restaurant. There are also moments of discomfort where the audience notes something is normal within cishet dating, but is intrinsically violent or harmful.

Though Grummett uses the dolls crudely, they show far more sophisticated puppetry technique when introducing the squids that are taking over the world of the show. In this simple tale, like Kafka’s Metamophosis, people are waking up transformed into squid-human monsters but these squid supposedly ruthlessly maim and kill. Society fears them, yet their unique bodies – including genitals – are instrumental in saving the world from another disaster. Grummett’s reclamation of trans people’s othering is joyful and fun, and the integration of jokes from the Barbie scenes in the squid story dramaturgically coheres both parts of the show.

There’s Something in the Water runs through 28 August.

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