Bullish, Camden People’s Theatre

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Asterion wanders through the night, in a world that doesn’t really fit them. The minotaur of Greek myth, Asterion is the only one of their kind to exist. Asterion is bull-ish, neither human nor bull. Or, both human and bull. Either way, they’re on the hunt for adventure and way out of a labyrinth.

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Hir, Bush Theatre

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Issac is returning home after a three-year stint as a US marine where his job was to pick up body parts after front line attacks. He longs for the peace and quiet of his nuclear family and the familiarity of middle America so he can make peace with the demons of war. But on opening the door of the house he grew up in, he discovers a revolution has taken place on the home front. After a stroke turned his father into a near vegetable, his mother is avenging years of abuse. His sister Maxine has transitioned to Max. Both mom and Max have rejected social conventions and are living in an anarchic mess of laundry, dishes and socio-political soundbites.

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The Mutant Man, Space Arts Centre

315_The Mutant Man @ The Space. Photo by Greg Goodale

By guest reviewer Maeve Campbell

Contemporary pop culture is awash with true crime stories: NPR’s Serial, HBO’s The Jinx and Netflix’s Making of a Murder are just a few titles that have recently gripped public imagination. It is therefore not surprising that two plays about the life of Harry Crawford, born Eugenia Falleni in 1875, have been dramatised in the last few years. The Trouble with Harry by Lachlan Philpot played in Melbourne in 2014 and now Christopher Bryant’s The Mutant Man comes to the Space Arts Centre.
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Love, Lies and Taxidermy and Scorch, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

First loves: awkward, hormonal milestones of young adulthood that make you feel like you’re on top of the world in a bubble that’s just the two of you. That is, unless you’re a trans or gender fluid teen who is still exploring gender identity, or someone with extensive family problems. But issues like these, when married with a youthful story of falling in love, make for some powerful and moving theatre.

Love, Lies and Taxidermy compares falling in love for the first time to living in a film. With narration incorporating stage directions, short scenes reminiscent of quick cuts and a wonderfully ridiculous conclusion, the play feels like a teen romcom, but has enough substance to ensure it isn’t total frivolity. It’s fluffy, sweet and addresses how social class can effect young love.

Set in Myrthyr Tydfil where all road lead to Tesco, Ash and Valentine meet at hospital when they’re both waiting to see if they qualify for paid medical trials. Ash’s dad is on the verge of bankruptcy, and Val’s parents are separated so he wants to send them on a cruise in hope they will fall in love again. The tentatively begin dating, but life has a way of interfering with their time together. Ash has other ideas to earn some quick cash courtesy of an aspiring filmmaker college mate, but devoted Val vehemently opposes them. Cue a mad dash adventure to rescue Ash from her poor choices and live happily ever after.

There are a few lose ends in the narrative that get forgotten in favour of the “boy rescues girl” plot line, like Val’s quest for money for his parents. They could easily be trimmed to get to the point faster, or developed further to make a more fully-formed story.

The cast of three display remarkable energy as they play all the roles. Remy Beasley and Andy Rush are Ash and Val, the young couple who clearly fancy the pants off each other. Rush, though the hero, goes against the stereotypical popular lad who wins the girl through violence and strength. Awkward and geeky, his devotion to the bold and brassy Beasley is utterly adorable. Beasley’s confidence also goes against the romcom trope; she most definitely does not want to be rescued even though she doesn’t want to make the money in the way she has chosen.

The ending, however unrealistic, charms and delights. Though there is no set to portray the described splendour, the text more than makes up for its absence. The intimacy of the Roundabout suits this play well, though a larger venue would give more scope for design.

Scorch takes a different tone from Love, Lies and Taxidermy, though it also has a generous helping of youthful optimism about love. Kez, a bio-girl who dresses as a boy when not at school Orr home, has met Jules online and is smitten despite the “cool dude” exterior. This story has a darker outcome what with the complexities of gender identity and disclosure as it reinterprets the classic coming-of-age tale.

Kez is perky, accepting and generally at peace with her discomfort in a female body. Amy McAllister embodies the role with verve and charisma, making the audience sympathetic to consequences that arise from not telling Jules that she has a female, strap-on wearing body. The character’s good intentions are sweet, but not enough to save her.

Kez grows up quickly over the course of the story, and the Internet gives her a wealth of information to help her explore her gender identity and legal options. Her social media accounts facilitate meeting girls, and it’s all too easy to set up alternative profiles that portray her as a boy. It also helps her find a local support group, so the sword that is growing up in the digital age is well and truly double-sided.

This is a well-formed script with several layers. Whilst it is a powerful piece of storytelling as a solo performance, introducing additional actors to take on other roles would add depth to Kez’s experiences. McAllister uses the space well, though the opportunity to fully engage with the audience is missed.

Both productions are generally excellent examples of storytelling. The differing perspectives on teenage love are delightfully nostalgic and provocative without becoming twee or trite. The Roundabout enhances their intimacy, but limits scope for design and staging. These two plays would be served just as well, if not better, in a larger space that enables them to extend their production values.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

Rotterdam, Trafalgar Studios

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No one stays long in Rotterdam. Boats, goods and people are always on the move in and out of the Dutch port city. Alice is an exception, an English immigrant whose ship washed ashore seven years ago and never took to sea again. She doesn’t like the city, but neither does she want to leave. Her ex-boyfriend Josh came with her, but after meeting his sister Fiona, Alice realised she was gay and left Josh for Fi. The women set up home in Rotterdam, couched in comfortable, domestic bliss for the last several years. Now a few nights before New Year’s Eve, Alice agonises over a coming out email to her parents back home. As she’s about to click send, Fi has her own coming out – she’s not a gay woman, she’s a man called Adrian trapped in a woman’s body.

Alice’s secure life begins to come loose from its moorings as she tries to support Adrian’s transition. Her brave face can only hold up for so long as she is left in his wake in Jon Brittain’s Rotterdam. The fragility of their relationship is much more moving than any televised exposé for the masses. Even though some scenes are a touch overwritten, the ebb and flow of this delicate situation is exquisitely captured.

Brittain’s use of perfectly balanced perspectives makes it impossible to take sides as Adrian and Alice’s issues become increasingly at odds – a commendable decision that’s difficult to execute in writing. Both are inherently self-absorbed, and both have genuine grievances with the other. The nuance in the storyline lies in their interactions, and two minor characters provide a wider view of their microcosm that feels devastatingly huge. All four characters have quietly powerful speeches and moments where they try to understand each other despite their needs being at odds with someone else’s experience. These characters are wonderfully flawed humans trying their best to navigate an unfamiliar situation; Brittain’s ability to foster audience empathy through their spectrum of emotions and occasional bad behaviour is spot on.

Alice McCarthy and Anna Martine as Alice and Fi/Adrian are phenomenal. Jessica Clark is Lelani, Alice’s much younger, distracting lesbian colleague full of energy, life and good intentions. Ed Eales-White as Josh has a lovely, quiet patience and dogged determination to stick by the couple even though he had been hurt so badly all those years ago.

Though some moments are a bit overly explanatory about family relationships and trans experience, they are easily forgiven in light of the fully believable characters. Though this isn’t an “awareness” piece per say, the humanity and insight into transgender transition Rotterdam provides is hugely important and valuable.

Rotterdam runs through 27th July.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.