Pronoun

Mon 21st – Sat 26th August 2017

reviews

Jacob Pagano

at 14:30 on 24th Aug 2017

0agrees

1disagrees

‘Pronoun’ takes one of the most polemical and important issues of our time—gender, and gender transitioning—by presenting a heterosexual teenage couple with a female partner (formerly Izzy, now Dean) who wants to become male. In the early parts of the play, before her transition, Dean tells us “I woke up and the mirror was just there…I realized I had never really looked.” Her partner, Josh, becomes enraged with her, and the crux of the play revolves around his trying to convince Dean to remain female and come on a trip with him to Thailand.

‘Pronoun’ has a unique set-design. Surrounding the stage is wooden scaffolding, around which stand the other characters—the protagonists’ parents, the nurses, Dean’s friends—who often repeat important character lines or chant crucial (and often harmful) words. They act like a sort of choir, and, through their frequent interjections, heighten the tension in Dean and Josh’s relationship.

For me, the show is most effective when we watch several nurses describe, in highly bureaucratic and didactic voices, the possible side effects of hormone treatment. It is in these moments that the cast actually shows and performs, rather than simply tells or reports on, the harrowing challenges that people who are transitioning genders must face. When the nurses repeat, “Increased muscle mass, higher rate of body hair growth, fat distribution” before Izzy, we properly feel immersed in an NHS nightmare.

Unfortunately, these parts only constitute patches in a performance that frequently falls back on dialogue in which the cast restates hackneyed clichés and gender stereotypes. One recurring example of this are Izzy’s parents, who say things like, “Oh, she’ll outgrow it dear,” or “It’s only a rebel without a cause phase.” It is true that parents might in fact say such things, and refer to gender identity as an “incident,” but Pronoun seems lazily mimetic. It simply cherry-picks from the tropes we associate with gender and offers them as dialogue for rather two-dimensional characters.

There is potential in ‘Pronoun’, and surely the script can be reworked. But what the play truly needs is both greater accuracy and heightened creativity. Perhaps its directors could start by listening not to the headlines, but to the stories of those transitioning. For surely their language will surely bring us closer to an experience that we must learn to understand.

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Amaris Proctor

at 13:00 on 27th Aug 2017

0agrees

0disagrees

This play which investigates the uncertainty and turbulence involved in being young and transgendered felt a bit stuck in adolescence itself. The significance of its subject matter deserves a more nuanced treatment than the threadbare collection of stock tropes played out here.

It is difficult to determine whether it is the acting of the unnecessarily large and clunky cast or the writing which makes the dialogue come across as so stilted. The inaptitude of the fake crying and scenes of physical violence particularly are hard to stomach. The shoddy acting means scenes meant to have emotional gravity become stroppy and bathetic. It is near impossible to invest in some of the more far fetched subplots needlessly included in the production, such as the marriage of a couple of sixteen year olds, which is so ludicrous and far-removed from the experience of the vast majority of western teenagers. What’s worse is that the mawkishly dime-store lines are trotted out in a endless loop of repetitive dialogue, in a play which seems to stretch its material thin. This is all threaded together by artlessly fumbling exposition.

That’s not to say the production is completely without merit. Technical aspects of the show add a polished sheen to it, such as the lighting which is dextrously used to create atmosphere. For example, lights are powerfully used to emphasis how the story is a microcosmically grounded cog in a larger narrative about gender and toilets which is happening on an international scale. The soundtrack was also up to scratch, using musical devices to traipse through time with old golden tunes like Bobby Vinton’s ‘My Special Angel’ and the 2014 song ‘Say Something’. Furthermore, while much of the writing comes across as highly laboured, it is peppered with a few jokes and images which capture the snarky spark of teenage angst and rebellion. Allusions to Joan of Arc and jokes about man spreading stood out due to their quality. The climactic speech about tolerance in contrast to acceptance as a stumbling block to progress is markedly interesting, despite how issues with pacing somewhat watered down its force.

While the play has its moments, it is weighed down with a sense of its own message, which is condescendingly on the nose. Its stronger qualities fail to translate into a cohesive piece of theatre with the capacity to move its audience, as the viewer never fully suspends their disbelief.

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Comments

John May; 25th Aug 2017; 13:53:25

Totally loved the show. A proper love story showing no boundaries, regardless of gender. Moving and entertaining. A MUST SEE SHOW

John May; 26th Aug 2017; 04:14:40

The emphasis of the story is that love has no boundaries. Regardless of gender or sexuality, It's moving, thought provoking, and sometimes emotional (in a happy way) The cast were amazing and the show is extremely enlightening

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