Described as an explosive, visceral portrayal of disintegration, TransAction Theatre's 'dIRTy' was performed at the Contact Theatre, Manchester on 31 January. Mari Elliott reviews the experience
I believe every audience member left the studio theatre philosophising about what they just encountered. diRTy, written and performed by self-defined ‘trans-feminist’ Joey Hateley of TransAction and directed by outspoken advocate of inclusive practice Julie McNamara, seemed to openly invite interpretation. The performance left enough ambiguity to allow the audience to attribute their own feelings and experiences to the narrative.
diRTy is a semi-autobiographical ‘one-man’ show. I use the gendered term loosely, given Joey’s trans nature, and the way in which the central figure embodied both the female and the male psyche we all possess to varying degrees. Throughout the performance, Joey juggled multiple roles, using an intricately choreographed mix of action on stage and on screen, to create and to reflect the fragmented layers representative of the human mind.
This layering technique of using fragmented, non-linear narrative and disconnected characters, Joey says, is part of what he calls his ‘feminist methodology’. ‘One-man’ show is also misleading in another way, as there were actually two people present on stage at all time – Joey and Siobhan, the beautifully costumed BSL interpreter who was every bit as integral to the performance as Joey himself.
The characters Joey played could be defined at their most simplistic as male Joey and female Joey, whereas the characters on screen were of a more complex and sinister nature. These ‘characters’, as disparate as they seemed, served to represent the contrasting aspects of one individual. As the play progressed, they eventually became less and less defined as the characters quite literally stripped off their layers and tore through socially constructed boxes until they merged into a cohesive whole.
Joey’s transition from one persona to another was remarkable; at times flowing seamlessly, at others snapping between characters with admirable speed and precision, and on occasion, engaging in a Gollum-like quick-fire conversation between the central character and its ‘gremlin’. Joey’s flexibility and diversity as a very physical actor was captivating to watch, and the gradual and tentative way in which the strands of narrative finally wove together created an enthralling sensation of tension and suspense.
The production is a work in progress, first conceived at Contact Theatre back in 2003 but still continuing to evolve. Ten years later, Joey returned to Contact in order to showcase the current stage of development and to engage in a post-show discussion with the audience.
Joey and Julie are both passionate about inclusive practice and providing opportunities for people to share their own stories and ideas. It is a genuine comfort to know that this creative pair is not here merely to preach about equality and diversity, but also to actively involve the audience in their conversation. As hard as the panel strove to make the discussion as safe an environment as possible, however, there will always remain a sense of insecurity, particularly with shows of a controversial nature.
This insecurity was vocalised by one audience member who spoke of her reluctance to share her views in case of causing offence or revealing her own ignorance on the subject matter. I empathise. As unversed as I am in gender politics and queer theory, I too felt a pang of anxiety when asked to review diRTy.
But in the end, I suppose, it’s okay not to know or to understand something as long as we share a mutual respect for each other’s opinions and a willingness for acceptance. If the show taught us anything, it is the importance of celebrating the diversity of opinion and interpretations we took home with us that evening.
Mari Elliott is Digital Engagement Assistant with Full Circle Arts.
To find out more about TransAction Theatre go to www.transactiontheatre.co.uk