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Sunday, 4 June 2017

Face 2 Face Time, a play about being trans in a relationship


Last week I went to Putney Arts Theatre in South West London to see seven new short plays about “Love in the Time of Tinder”.

In case you don’t know, Tinder is a dating app. A bit like Pokemon Go, the idea is you swipe to find monsters in your area!

The main reason I went, apart from having the opportunity to make the cheap joke above, is the fact that I love live theatre and that local performances can often be as good or better than shows at the main theatres, and that one of the plays was written by my friend Grace Johnstone. And it was about being trans and in a relationship. What’s not to like?

Just to run through the other six playlets first. They were all very good, well-written and well-performed, all entertaining and thought-provoking with much humour and plenty of opportunities for the audience to recognise themselves in the characters, behaviour and situations.

Fifteen Minutes: literally that, about a somewhat awkward speed dating event linked to an app, veering between funny and cringemaking. A good insight into how digital life can take over real connection between people.

It’s Complicated: a longer play with various scenes, a lot of laughs and time to develop characters, namely a man and a woman who are pressed by their respective friends to get back out there after the end of previous relationships. I found the last scene, when the would-be couple who have been messaging finally meet in a bar, very realistic and well performed. I very much liked this one.

Party Poopers: a man obsessed with breasts and a happily divorced woman meet at a party, not accidentally it would seem. Their very different outlooks create an edgy encounter with some sharp dialogue.

A Human Heart: you wonder throughout what this rather disturbing situation is all about, where a couple are subjected to intense and intimate questioning about their relationship; only at the very end does the purpose of the test become clear. Despite the emotional discomfort of the test, they pass where all others have failed.

Delayed: This was, along with Grace’s, the most humane of the plays and the only one in which there was a kiss, a lovely, sweet heart-warming kiss. I went “aww!” at that point. Two commuters chat briefly each morning on a London station platform but, like most commuters, are more tied up with their iPods and dating apps than the nice person next to them, until the end.

Seeing Red: This appealed, too. A bumbling prejudiced guy scoffs at the modern art at a gallery before realising he’s insulting two of the artists. A sad mistake, since they are undoubtedly desirable! Sharp dialogue.



The penultimate play was Face 2 Face Time, Grace’s work. Arguably the most serious of the plays, I immediately recognised the situation only too well: TGirls chatting online about coming out to their partners, and one who does so dramatically by quite literally coming out to her girlfriend from her hiding place fully dressed and made up.

One of the regular props in these plays was a pair of giant smartphones and here they were used to good effect, backlit with two M2F trans people appearing in sideways silhouette as they chatted to each other, a conversation held a thousand times over on every trans forum and chat site. To me that was almost like watching a documentary, although it was presumably a new take on revelations/confessions to the rest of the audience. I felt that although I knew the situation, the fact that the two trans women were played by female actresses might have confused the audience; at least, I think if I wasn’t trans I’d have been puzzled by what was happening there. Maybe having two male actors, but with female wigs, so the silhouette was feminine, though not totally, and you got the deeper voices that are usually characteristic of us M2F trans people, would have made the audience realise that something more unusual was afoot. However, that would have reduced the surprise of Dave in the next scene emerging dressed into the limelight and his girlfriend’s view for the first time.

Dave, though nervous as hell, is honest and explains his other side fully to his girlfriend, and there’s a lot to explain. I’m sorry that the audience laughed when he declared “I’m Gemma” but I think they accepted – as Dave’s girlfriend did – that here was a relationship that could still work, even thrive, with hard work and compromise. Food for thought.

I suppose the real challenge for Grace was to get such a large amount of information on transgender issues and relationships into just 15 - 20 minutes. Like I say, it was a more serious play than the others but I think the audience warmed to Dave/Gemma and did somewhat root for his girlfriend Sarah who was determined to make a go of it. If I’d not been trans I might have got lost on some of the concepts and jargon (what’s “transition”?)

It’s hard for me to be objective when I recognise so much of myself and my own life there, so let me refer you to Maggie Dixon’s review (link above) as she was impressed and much moved by this play.

The one puzzle – and this is largely because, although she had written it, Grace did not get involved with the staging of the play - was that Gemma dressed seemingly in Indian style: kurti or shift dress, loose leggings and flats. But we all know, of course, that TGirls always dress in leather miniskirts, stockings and skyscraper heels! So that didn’t work. (Only kidding, although it was an unusual selection by the props department).

Sadly, the plays were on only for one week. But I hope they will be performed again soon, in their home in Putney or elsewhere. There wasn’t a single dud play there and one of them is that all-important trans one. A very enjoyable evening. It’s a nice little theatre, too, and right in the middle of this bustling suburb of London.

Sue x

4 comments:

  1. Nicely reviewed - glad you enjoyed the night! Always a dilemma as to what to put in or leave out of any piece, and twenty minutes isn't long at all!

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    1. Thank you sweetie. Yes, I think this would work as a full-length play where all the issues and relationship could be fleshed out more fully. Sue x

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  2. Sounds very good. Wardrobe, it's tricky, I think. Play it too highstreet or too trans stereotype, and, well, you can please some of the people some of the time :-)

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    1. I agree. The wardrobe wasn't critical, though. It was obvious that Dave was serious about being Gemma and that came across forcefully. Sue x

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