This show asks questions that need asking, says Dan Edwards.
“You’ve got leg hair!” “I’ve always had leg hair you idiot. I just shaved it before.”
Pronoun holds nothing back. And rightly so.
This important play charts the story of Dean (Franky Sissons), a teenage transgender boy. He is confident in his identity but struggles to maintain the support of those he loves most. On the one hand, we see Dean’s mum, dad and sister wrestling with the grief of what they perceive to be a loss of a child, trying desperately to understand Dean’s experience for themselves. We also witness Dean’s relationship with his boyfriend Josh (Jamie P Robson), Josh working through his conflicted feelings and responses to Dean as Dean makes steps towards gender affirmation surgery. Throughout this, Dean is in constant conversation with the long dead but ever swish James Dean (Jerome Burelbach), acting as a guiding father figure to Dean himself. What we are left with is not only a story of transition for all parties involved but a charming account of teenage angst, friendship and growing up.
Sissons’ performance as Dean was most impressive, Sisson successfully conveying both the torment and outright frustration at a community who can tolerate but never quite embrace Dean’s authentic self. Robson’s portrayal of Josh is also of note; he navigates the complex relationship between Dean and Josh beautifully. Also striking were the performances of Dean’s mother (Joe Pieri) and father (Julia Xavier Stier). The decision to reverse the gender roles of Dean’s Mum and Dad was an interesting move, further reminding us that gender is anything but concrete. Pieri and Stier handled their roles well, Pieri’s motherly erratic self- denial and Stier’s cool disbelief forming an interesting contrast.
The subject of this play is an important and relevant one. What was nice to see, though, was the fact that the play wasn’t one dimensional in its focus on gender transition. It’s a serious, heartwarming character study, and its moments of humour was very much enjoyed. Several nicely delivered one-liners (“I thought he was in prison?”…”No, he’s in Slough”) provided welcome comic relief, putting the audience at ease and highlighting the play’s warm realism. Carine Valarché and Kathryn Cussons’ portrayal of the school senior management team was particularly amusing, the actors encapsulating the frenzied paranoia of OfSTED weary teachers. (Also, there’s a funky Elvis Presley themed danced routine- not to be missed.)
At times, the play seemed to lack a sense of pace, prop and scene changes scenes often seeming clunky and leaving the audience waiting in dead silence for unbearably long periods. Indeed, while the fluidity and range of characters portrayed was impressive, the transition between actors playing different roles was at times confusing. Perhaps greater variation on delivery or costume would have made this clearer to the audience.
This, though, should not totally detract from what was an engaging piece of theatre. As a thoroughly brain-drained first year, I came away both smiling and thinking. Quite an achievement.