Edinburgh Theatre

The year 2015-2016 was a big year for me, coming to Edinburgh after working in the Middle East for several years. One of the first things I did was visit the Festival Theatre, where I fell in love with modern dance (I hate dancing, so don’t switch off if you are also not a dancer). Although I intend to continue visiting the Festival, I will also be trying out other venues, for modern dance, drama, ballet and opera.

Grace Lavery at the University of Edinburgh

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She’s the enfant terrible of Trans academia, described in her book as “the David Bowie of Californian English professors.” Grace Lavery is at the University of Edinburgh to promote her memoir, Please Miss: a heartbreaking work of staggering penis, and like Bowie, the book constitutes in its diversity of styles and switches of voice a marmite quality you’ll either love or be bewildered by. This is not to question the book’s value; it is in parts beautiful, hilarious, and poignant, as well as sometimes oblique: a mould-breaking series of self-reflections in other words, unlike the other, ‘straighter’ memoirs that largely make up the trans biographical canon. Prepare, then, to disorientate and depart from the linear trans life-story, and so too the cagily respectable one-woman show. Grace, unlike Please Miss with its multiple metaphors, is an open book and a brilliantly responsive improviser to her audience.

            At the UoE talk, shared with the laid-back suaveness of the chair Lindsay of the Lighthouse Books team, the auditorium is full and the carefully be-spaced audience laugh and applaud Grace’s free-flowing sharpness and self-deprecating humour. This includes her fabulously kinaesthetic reading of the ‘Trans-Woman-As-Alien’ homage from her book, and her rapid onset of spinning good yarns. Grace and Lindsay bond quickly over their mutual inability to summarize the book in a few short words, with Grace waving her hand, “My complete failure to describe the book in fact is not a bad descriptor of the book.” Perhaps if there is a guiding theme it is of the memoir as partly a response to the media narrative of trans people hating their bodies. The playfully constructed Please Miss is Grace’s rejoinder, with its focus on the sex and sexiness of the trans body, as a celebration of “trans joy.” Another driver is the desire to create a queer text – and therefore a convention-busting one – that switches font and tone because transition is all about such switches. The body of the text, then, as trans female body, one that captures the ethos of Oscar Wilde, never settling on one thing but expressing itself via complex and contradictory multiplicities, and doing so with Wildean elan.

            As both an organizer and an increasingly seduced audience member, I sit and watch Grace Lavery in awe and with love as the talk continues. Rarely does a 60-minute talk go so quickly, a good and bad thing. Grace’s sincerity, channelled through her hyperactive mind and charismatic conversation, rewards us early with her tale of a robbery of an Edinburgh McDonalds hashbrowns gone wrong, before she gets down to analysis and shares her counter-narrative about the ‘transition’ story: “Everything that’s interesting and worthwhile and worth affirming about transitioning … takes place in the strangeness of transition, not in its capacity to harmonize or normalize or neutralize our feelings of intensity or antagonism.” The strangeness and surrealism include a darkness too, of course. An audience member asks Grace for her survival strategies in the face of online abuse that Grace is well-known for bearing. The online campaigns against her have included sex photos of her and her husband hacked from her account and sent to her boss and to her mother. “I’m sometimes scared,” Grace confides. With this fear, though, is her recognition that what happens online is a distortion of the real world, in which the hate and hostility are generally absent. She came to the UK uncertain what to expect, she says, expecting a Beatlemania of ‘gender-critical’ hatred, but all she has seen so far is a single woman handing her a piece of paper in a Manchester book-signing talk, asking her if ‘woman’ is being erased by the existence of people like Grace. Judging by the number of women in this UoE audience who are loving Grace with every passing minute, the absurdity of the notion is never clearer.

            In the blink of an eye, the talk ends, and concerning Please Miss, there are some parts of the book which shall remain a mystery (the book’s recurring clown scenes, what do they mean? I think I might know, though I’m not even sure if Grace knows, or whether she wants to know). We all leave this warm and electrifying space with its unsolved plethora of mysteries and maybe a single shared sentiment left to offer the wonderful Grace Lavery: Please Miss, give us more.

 

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Transpose 2022

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Transpose 2022

 

Note: Transpose 2022 was filmed by CN Lester's team and will be made available to the public. I can't overstate how important an act this is, as my review will explore more  generally.

 

At the Barbican in London on Friday evening, I took a friend to watch the poignant, funny and beautiful Transpose – a kind of trans cabaret originally conceived in 2011 by the multi-talented CN Lester and now organized by them on a near annual basis. As I watched and was immersed in each episode of the show, a thought came to me about the transitory nature of this genre of performance art within the space of theatre. With urgency, we have to record these events in as many mediums as possible. Because this feels like a vivid, vital history happening on the margins, the kind that is too often lost while more materially enduring art – the trans memoir and the film – dominate trans history, including artistic expression. This domination is problematic on all kinds of levels, not least because the publishing company and the film studio will only ever invest in projects (and trans people) of acceptability to largely white, cisgender audiences, with queer and trans people of colour (QTPOC) barely mentioned, their experience silenced. The result is that the memoir and film by or about trans people have tended to be particularly compromised visions or exclusionary ones, much more so than the cabaret or reading, or the self-published short story or song. Arguably, these latter forms of art are where trans identity feels most genuinely to belong to the transgender artist, whatever their creed or colour. This makes Transpose 2022 an especially important show for the talents that it features.

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When Renata Carvalho spoke at Edinburgh Transgender Intersectional/International (2019)

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In 2019, I was part of a conference that invited the travesti actress and activist Renata Carvalho - star of Jo Clifford's 'The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven' on its touring production in Brazil - to come over from Brazil as our keynote speaker. We originally uploaded the speech on our conference website, but with that w...
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Resisting Whiteness event 2019

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Resisting Whiteness one-day event, Edinburgh Returning for the second consecutive year, Resisting Whiteness came yesterday to the Pleasance Theatre in Edinburgh, providing an intense and inspiring series of panels, as well as a wonderful spoken word section, and a final segment based around the documentary short Invisible by internationally-acclaim...
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Hearty by Emma Frankland

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Hearty by Emma Frankland Raw and dripping with punk aesthetic, this one-woman-show's one-woman emerges in ripped tights and a T-shirt that paraphrases loudly the words of anti-trans theorist Germaine Greer: Lop Your Dick Off. My first impression of Emma Frankland is edgily uncertain and in awe, her Lady-Gaga-looks combined with Heath Ledger's mesme...
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Pronoun, Pass, & Amnesty International

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Transgender drama: Pronoun To be clear at the outset, this was the production of a youth theatre group, not a highly resourced team of experienced, professional career actors – although some of the performances left a powerful impression, and the show as a whole achieved some remarkable moments. Pronoun, written by Evan Placey, follows the transiti...
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Transgender Dance: Sound Cistem

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Transgender Dance: Sound Cistem It starts with a heartbeat, the dancer-directors Lizzie and Ayden in slow-motion entry, setting the scene of a nightclub featuring two young transgender bodies who are in fact multiple. Sound Cistem is theatrical dance set to a series of pulsing, dance-floor rhythms and the voices of several trans interviewees projec...
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Drone by Harry Josephine Giles

Drone
Drone by Harry Josephine Giles The blurring of human and machine reiterates here in a comedically surreal, startling performance by the performance poet Harry Josephine Giles. Drawing on visual and aural effects, Giles presents the disturbingly evocative middle-class arc of the life of an electronic, military drone. With Giles as both narrator and ...
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Burgerz by Travis Alabanza

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Burgerz by Travis Alabanza Playing currently at the Traverse Theatre is Travis Alabanza's poignant and comic one-person show, a thought-provoking meditation created out of a jarring personal experience. Back in 2016, Alabanza, a non-binary person of colour, was abused in a London street, with a burger thrown at them by a stranger. The show's series...
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The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven

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The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven I entered a dark, candle-lit auditorium, finding a dining table stretching the length of the floor, draped in a pristine white tablecloth, with candles and cutlery. Audience members trickled in, free to sit in the auditorium or at the table as guests of a transgender Jesus. Queer, and just a bit contro...
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Resisting Whiteness

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Resisting Whiteness (Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh) Organized by a collective of queer and trans people of colour in Edinburgh and Glasgow, yesterday's Resisting Whiteness combined both conference and safe-space for people of colour to discuss generally (but not only) LGBTQIA+ issues seldom if ever discussed in white-majority spaces. A sell-out thre...
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Sod's Law (Edinburgh Festival)

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Sod's Law (Edinburgh Festival) A posh young aristo, singing lectures about fisting and 'man twats,' Sod's Law is a rather wonderful exploration of the history of homosexuality from the time of Henry VIII to the 21st century. From the court of the English Tudor monarch through Molly Houses and Oscar Wilde, we get observations on various legislations...
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Pussy Riot + The Estrons (Edinburgh Festival)

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Pussy Riot + The Estrons (Edinburgh Festival) You say 'punk,' I think of skinny men with psycho eyes, about to launch themselves at you with Doc Marten feet and broken beer bottles. Punk as frustrated patriarchy, turned in on itself, lashing out at anyone who comes near. I'm so glad, then, that I went to watch the mesmerizing Pussy Riot last n...
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Edinburgh Book Festival: Precarious Freedoms panel

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​Precarious Freedoms: Queer Perspectives From Around The World (Edinburgh Book Festival) Last night I attended a panel event at the Edinburgh Book Festival, its importance too great not to write about. Though much was discussed, the theme of trans visibility and invisibility wound its way around much that brought anger, but also hope to the fo...
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The Lady Boys of Bangkok (Edinburgh Festival)

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 The Lady Boys of Bangkok (Edinburgh Festival) Their Big Top tent is located on the waste ground between plush apartments and offices – a no-man's land of genderfuck exotica. You walk along Fountainbridge road to see the gathering throng of taxis and the groups of all ages, their glad-rags on. The people are on their Friday...
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Adam (Drama, Edinburgh Festival) 28.08.17

Adam
Adam (Drama, Edinburgh Festival) 28.08.17 This was a slick, creative piece of theatre, inventive in its use of characterisation, stage and language. The duality of particular words is turned into a key recurring theme, and language itself – English compared with Arabic – is explored in relation to gender. As I left the theatre, having been part of ...
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Eve (Theatre, Edinburgh Festival) 27.08.17

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Eve (Theatre, Edinburgh Festival) 27.08.17 Actress/writer Jo Clifford's telling of her life story, Eve, to the accompaniment of photos and occasional background music, produces the expected; it is poignant and sometimes sad, though ultimately has you feeling relieved for her. Like Kate O'Donnell's You've Changed, it charts the trans experience from...
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Cirkopolis (Circus, Edinburgh Festival)

Cirkopolis
Cirkopolis (Circus, Edinburgh Festival) 21.08.17 Cirkopolis does not lack ambition. Filling a conference room on a daily basis in Edinburgh, drawing audiences with its eye-catching promotion of themes of dystopia set to acrobatics, it offers a conceptually alluring promise of extreme highs (literally) and a brutalist background of 1920s German sci-...
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Skin (Dance, Edinburgh Festival)

Skin
Skin (Dance, Edinburgh Festival) 19.08.17 Dark, smart and serious, Skin emerges like an urban sci-fi, combining euphoria with torment in low-lit orange lighting, the spotlights and the menace of the dancers. The ending is one of several moments that leave a lasting image: of balaclava'd figures, their backs turned to the audience and to the protago...
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You've Changed (Drama, Edinburgh Festival)

Youve-changed
You've Changed (Drama, Edinburgh Festival) 14.08.17 After the crude and clichéd anti-climax that was Testosterone, I approached Kate O'Donnell's one-woman show about her transgender transition with trepidation. You've Changed as it turns out is both less offensive and less of a risk-taker as a show; true, O'Donnell strips and presents her vagina as...
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