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.

Trans Pennine


Trans Pennine (Edinburgh Festival)

A gentle, generally light, small-scale drama, Trans Pennine explores family life after the death of the wife/mother, and a suppressed secret that finally comes out. Of the three-person cast, an embittered husband/father is required to confront a past he'd rather not remember, with the aid of his grown-up son and daughter. What he'd thought was evidence of an affair between the wife and another man from years/decades ago, turns out to be the suppressed evidence of his son's expression to be female.

I found this coming-out drama thought-provoking, though perhaps not for the reasons the writers and actors intended. Mainly, I was preoccupied by the cisgender male playing the son who comes out at the end as 'Amy.' I'm glad he didn't try to dress as a woman – at the very end his sister places a colourful scarf around his shoulders, to signify his coming out. He remained, though, even with scarf, what he had been throughout: a cisgender man, blokeish in clothing and manner. And I kept thinking through the final ten minutes as the twist became apparent: Please don't put on a dress . . . Please don't put on a dress . . .

My feelings of ambivalence come here: there really was nothing 'trans' about him in body language or demeanour throughout the play, no evidence of gender-conflict. Should there have been? For me, this was a weakness of the play simply from a dramatic point of view, the fact that the 'trans' character had to say they were trans, rather than being able to show it. Show, don't tell: the golden rule of storytelling that this production failed, in turn appropriating transgender identity as a kind of final 'twist.' At no point did I think: this person could be trans, I'd like to see this person transform; I'd like to see what this person looks like, as a woman. Shouldn't there be clues in their appearance, their manner, their face? That this person has the potential to transform, that they're repressing this? The actor in this play expressed, embodied, and inhabited, no such potential.

Arguably, this awkwardness within the play highlights the danger of using cisgender actors for transgender roles: they fail to embody the gender conflict of a trans person in the closet. A cisgender woman playing a trans woman is usually too much at ease, simply looks too much a person born female. A cisgender man playing a trans woman, on the other hand, well, I liked Jared Leto's performance in Dallas Buyers' Club, but Leto was able to portray a gaunt femininity in a way most cisgender men could never affect.

Further issues emerge, however, of a more personal nature: was my discomfort with the idea of the actor 'dragging' up, similar to the feelings of friends and family who also couldn't bear to look at me as Gina? Did they also think 'Please don't put on a dress . . . Please don't put on a dress . . .' Did this play give me the perspective of everyone who finds transgender women ungainly and ugly, a thing better not seen? Did I become the kind of snob or chauvinist I've resented elsewhere in my life? And a bigger issue: perhaps some people who come out as trans will, through no fault of their own, physically continue to signify their previous gender. God knows my own transgender appearance falls within the more androgynous part of the transgender spectrum. Perhaps it takes years to escape signifying that bloke anymore, or maybe it's a curse to carry with you forever. Perhaps I just need to be more accepting?

But still, here are my final thoughts, expressed in words of reservation: trans women aren't blokes with a secret. Trans Pennine projected this uneasy message and I find it uncomfortable as a trans woman, and unsatisfying as a member of the audience. Yet this play also succeeded, whether intentionally or otherwise, as a work of art, in provoking some deep-seated, potentially unresolved, self-reflection on what it is to inhabit the state of being trans, as well as the enduring importance of physicality when depicting the trans experience.

(Image from: ​https://britishtheatre.com/review-trans-pennine-edinburgh-fringe/)

Sod's Law (Edinburgh Festival)
Pussy Riot + The Estrons (Edinburgh Festival)


No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Thursday, 24 September 2020

Captcha Image

What's On This Week

My Latest Posts

July 01, 2020

Silenced by The Scotsman

​ On 11 June, The Scotsman published a deeply hostile article against transgender rights and activism in an opinion piece about the JK Rowling furore by its deputy political editor Gina Davidson. After much distress, I wrote a counter article which The Scotsman quietly ignored, after they had offered to pass it on to their Comment Editor. I experie...
May 11, 2020

The Book of Queer Prophets, curated by Ruth Hunt

in Books

  The Book of Queer Prophets: 24 Writers on Sexuality and Religion The historically fraught relationship between Abrahamic religions and LGBT+ identities provides the backdrop to The Book of Queer Prophets , a collection of twenty-four meditations by public figures who identify as both religious and LGBT+. The book's curator, the for...
May 09, 2020

Queer/Transgender short film: Mesmeralda

Joshua Matteo's short film, Mesmeralda , merging horror with esoterica, is now out on youtube . As with his previous work Metanoia , we see youthful trans actors racing through the empty streets of a moonlit New York, haunted by symbols and stalked by a masked figure of violent intentions. Mesmeralda , as described by Matteo, is the companion ...
March 08, 2020

Sterile like the moon: the joys of transgender healthcare

Sterile like the moon: the joys of transgender healthcare Summer, 2016: Gina's Big Bang, as transitioning begins A bureaucratic question in a sun-lit room. My medical practitioner asks me if I intend to have children. The question lingers, but the self-loathing is instant. No, I won't be having children. The practitioner nods. She moves on to the n...
November 10, 2019

General Election

General Election 12 December 2019 I spent the last election in an office, alone but for the company of a colleague. We watched the BBC's coverage while I drank wine, downbeat and expecting austerity and the absence of hope to triumph. Then we saw the exit poll and hung around, disbelieving at the sight of the kindled embers and lukewarm glow of a f...
October 05, 2019


October 05, 2019


Joker The trailer did its work, flashing images of anomie and fury perfectly pitched for these unstable times of precarious working conditions, grievance and institutional indifference. For these same reasons, Joker , directed by Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix as the protagonist, has attracted pre-release criticisms like few other recen...
September 29, 2019

Resisting Whiteness event 2019

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...
August 21, 2019

Hearty by Emma Frankland

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...
August 21, 2019

Pronoun, Pass, & Amnesty International

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 transit...