Boy, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

by Laura Kressly

In 1965, a Canadian couple give birth to identical twin boys, Brian and Bruce. When Bruce’s circumcision is botched and he is left without a penis, a doctor convinces his parents that the best way forward is to raise him as a girl. He thinks that with hormones and clear gender roles, Bruce – now Brenda – will be able to lead a normal life. The desperate parents eventually agree. This true story, dramatised by two adult performers and a zoo of soft toys, emphasises how enforcing strictly-defined gender binaries and stereotypes can have far-reaching, tragic consequences.

Though the performers are adults, they often use a pair of dolls and a selection from the array of soft toys to act out their narration. Switching between this style and the actors speaking as the characters resembles the fluid way children play. Juxtaposing what becomes an awful series of events against the child-like delivery drives home just how horribly Bruce/Brenda and their family were treated by their doctor. The opening scene, and ending the show with archive footage of the real Bruce interviewed on TV, has similar effect. It works well with the infuriating idea of girlhold that the well-intentioned parents impose on their child throughout most of the piece.

The design is simple yet effective. A watery wall of blue satin creates a benign, calming effect and a ledge for the soft toys that represent the young family at the start of the show. The later sea of soft toys that the actors are forced to stumble through is almost sinister, like the threat of stepping on a Lego brick. Though there’s a lot of dramaturgical and stylistic similarity with the Belgian company’s 2016 fringe show Us/Them, the creative choices are just as smart when applied to this story.

Boy runs through 28 August.

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