One of the challenges of reportage theatre – works in which the words and experiences of real people are edited and put into the words of actors – is to justify the process as the best means of communicating those experiences to a wider public. Sometimes, it’s not at all obvious why the original recordings can’t be used directly. Sometimes, however, it can – not least because theatre is the most appropriate way to give a platform to people who would otherwise have no opportunity to let their voices be heard.
Trans Scripts is theatre which – ironically enough – reminds us that, in real life, there are no simple universal narratives.
At a time when lesbians, gay men and bisexual people are enjoying greater legal equality than ever before in many Western nations, Trans Scripts is a timely reminder why we shouldn’t forget the “T” in “LGBT”. The show is grounded on the life experiences and views of many “male-to-female” transgender people interviewed by writer and producer Paul Lucas. It’s interesting, however, to note how even that terminology is openly questioned by some in the “Trans movement”: refreshingly, this production accepts that there’s no single description of what transgenderism even means and that issues of surgery and womanhood are by no means clear-cut or agreed.
That said, there are commonalities shared by the six characters we see before us: early childhood memories of feeling different, of learning stealth and subterfuge when liking “girly things”. We constantly flit between their own stories, but these are not isolated figures; the staging has each of these “characters” moving about the stage, responding to what the others say – some times quite forcefully, other times with just the smallest of nods or a reassuring touch. Americans, for example, can’t expect to get genital reconstruction paid for by a National Health Service, for example. Nor does everyone want to be noticed, or have front-row audience members feel their breasts; they just hope to blend into the wallpaper, to be invisible. Though, of course, being talked to is generally better than being talked about.
The cast – Calpernia Addams, Catherine Fitzgerald, Jay Knowles, Bianca Leigh, Rebecca Root, and Carolyn Michelle Smith – are forthright, focused and frankly rather dazzling, carrying us from the bullying and name-calling at school to the empowering self-discovery that comes, for example, from driving home for the first time in your high heals. While there’s plenty to still worry about – from the airbrushing of transgender people and drag queens from LGBT rights once it was taken over by “gay white men” to how friends are sometimes lost because they don’t like being reminded of their own insecurities – there are also signs of hope, not least from future generations hopefully free of the bigotries of the past.
Above all, though, Trans Scripts is theatre which – ironically enough – reminds us that, in real life, there are no simple universal narratives; that the only stories we should be forced to accept are those we choose for ourselves.