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.
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 mesmeric Joker. It is then that I notice she also has a tail, thick and long and pink, and attached to her back, a metallic pair of wings, the tips able to puncture through metal. There are trans people who present themselves respectfully with tidings of joy to politicians in tightly-controlled spaces, with wine and nibbles. This is not one of those occasions, and Emma is not bearing that kind of message. Here, anxiety and vulnerability is woven with fuck-you intransigence.
During this show named Hearty, a play on HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), Emma moves in circles, her set also cycling and re-cycling her words and thoughts. Despite the punk aesthetic, and the metal prosthetic and gothic eye make-up, her body language and manner is tender. Don't hurt me is one recurring utterance, possibly conjuring a primary thought that comes to any transgender person who has come out in public, the statement re-emerging with every eye-contact with a stranger. Emma launches into a brief flurry of exercise before swigging thirstily from a large plastic bottle that could either be apple juice or horse urine – at one point she mentions that the female hormones prescribed to trans women come from horse hormones. Emma also mentions biocodes and new possibilities for improving her body, including the fantasy of a hormone-patch that allows you to travel time. The influence of trans theorists such as Paul Preciado and Eva Hayward with their connection between hormone therapy and ecstasy is discernible, a radical trans feminism that wants more than equal marriage rights, if it wants that at all. It is not enough to apologetically be trans; she wants to savour it.
The show is partly about Emma, but also about trans people in the world. It is apparent at different points she is referencing other forms of trans identity, possibly Hijra in India or shamans from Indonesia or indigenous Two-Spirit Americans, also the violent campaigns against trans women in Brazil. She mentions past campaigns against witches, perhaps the punk female stars of a different era. These references indicate how this is a show operating at different levels in implicit signs that shift from personal to international. As her book None of Us Is Yet a Robot (2019) reveals, this is her fifth artistic work, building on the themes of the previous projects that dealt with transitioning. This production, Hearty, is subtly more politically aware, referencing the treatment of trans women in the world in 2019. The T-shirt's appropriation of an ugly statement made by a transphobic critic, for example, is not a coincidence. Hearty is a bid to connect trans identities around the world and let the audience know that this is not a recent phenomenon, not the identity or the hostility that follows it. Embracing fear in her fearsome, punk-styled exterior, the final words come like something from a superhero movie whether intended or otherwise, like a call to arms: She refuses to endure . . . She has endured for long enough . . . She refuses to endure. An inspiring call to arms, to end a darkly marvellous show.
Image taken from Emma Frankland's website https://www.notyetarobot.co.uk/