The charming and comfortable student-run Bedlam Theatre is packed to the rafters for the penultimate BARRY – and what a treat! The Shrinking Violet theatre collective (an LGBT group of performers and theatre makers) have a real gem on their hands with Barry, a glorious, funny and fierce homage to former University of Edinburgh student Dr James Barry, who in the 18th century, born a female, lived their adult life as a man. The piece takes this important LGBTQ+ historical figure and with skill, imagination and wild abandon, examines Barry’s life in full technicolour. It’s self-aware, self-deprecating and thoroughly enjoyable.
The first part sets the idea that Barry had deliberately assumed a male identity in adult life in order to succeed - to move freely in the world without question, becoming a practising doctor and public figure in order to help people. This idea of assuming an identity to overcome barriers is backed up with interviews with modern-day women who still face barriers in medicine. The second part of the piece then reimagines the first, resetting the narrative with Barry as a transgender man, as he is now widely recognised to have been.
We jump backwards and forwards in and out of Barry’s life, helped by regular dance sequences and slow-mo sections, not to mention a kick-ass soundtrack, helping us navigate historical story into present day, and the interweaving of story and verbatim interviews.
The company is comprised of five (presumably) cis female performers, and in the latter stages they are joined by a trans actor to play Barry. The energy and variety in the show is impressive – lipsyncing, dance sequences (Gold Digger was a triumph), physical theatre, and a lot of laughs.
Exploring gender, taking a swipe at stereotypes and at the so-called trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) who were recently invited to speak at an event at the University (causing much controversy) are deftly handled with sharp timing, genuine warmth and a keen understanding of the nuances and complexities of gender identity. A joyous celebration of an authentic life lived undisturbed. Loved it.
This performance is raising funds for @ScottishTrans
Le Monocle, a 1920s lesbian and bisexual nightclub, swaps Monmatre, Paris for the upper room in Edinburgh’s Surgeon’s Hall. We are welcomed by the owner Lulu who hosts bohemians, artists and monocle wearing women to enjoy evenings of liberated expression and romance. This remarkable true story unravels the lives of its patrons, most notably French athlete turned Nazi spy Violette Morris.
We learn about Violette’s determination to be accepted and adored on the horizon of the next Olympics. She’s unconventional, often wears male clothing and is known for having relationships with men and women. Her conflict with wanting to live authentically and having to conform to media expectations sees her electing for a mastectomy in a bid to perfect her sporting performances. She is faced with discrimination and rejection, often being deemed too masculine and male presenting to compete with women.
Le Monocle is home to a connected and compassionate group. We are reminded of the intrigue and excitement upon discovering sexuality through Francine, Le Monocle’s shy maid, when she has her first date and kisses with a girl. There’s kindness and motherly care to those who visit the bar with advice to ‘not let anyone tell you where you belong’.
As WW2 progresses, German occupation is destroying families and communities across France. Violette is allured by Hitler’s personal invitation and represents Germany at the Berlin Olympics. Recruited as a Nazi SS spy, she turns traitor on the community she once connected and celebrated alongside.
Le Monocle attempts to cram so many staggering and significant stories into one place. It’s impossible not to dilute big characters and the significance of such a progressive place. What it did do was inspire me to investigate and learn more about Le Monocle and the people who flourished because of its existence.
Le Monocle was showing at Surgeon’s Hall. Their Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019 run has now ended.
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