Pros: The topic is compelling and presented from an original and timely perspective.
Cons: The character of Elliott is underwritten.
How would we react if we discovered that our partner of four years was undergoing gender reassignment? Hopefully, many of us would be cool with it, offering support and appreciating the courage of letting one’s true nature flourish. Some others, though, might feel cheated and even try to make the whole thing about themselves.
The latter case applies to Elliott (Elena Voce), whom we get to know at the height of her relationship with Robin (Elijah W Harris). The two of them are young, very much in love and, in the opening scene, we see them getting ready for a dress-up party for which, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, Robin plans to wear one of his girlfriend’s frocks.
A shift in lighting marks some fast hops along the couple’s timeline, as we are shown scenes from the past and the future. The lovers’; first casual encounter in a bar, the day they move in together, some silly arguments and the first clear signs that the two are growing apart.
Elliott is depicted as a proper anti-hero, displaying an unpleasant attitude from the very beginning, both pestering the accommodating Robin and complaining about his submissiveness. She is the one who always has the last word, whilst his mood alternates phases of euphoria with depression. Despite not witnessing the actual breakup, it isn’t hard to imagine how things ended for them.
Following the separation, Elliott is distraught and, to add insult to injury, she soon discovers that Robin has started dressing like a woman, with the manifest intention of transitioning into one. Her first reaction is childish and self-centred, but her unconditioned love of Dolly Parton helps her to find the right approach to the matter!
As a public figure, the country singer has never made a secret of her several plastic surgeries and high-maintenance image, reiterating that a person should go to great lengths to appear exactly as they wish to. Resisting decades of criticism, she is rightfully taken as a role model in a play that exposes a gap between love and acceptance, and celebrates the courage of being oneself.
Featuring some of Parton’s greatest hits, sung live by the sweet Mia Hall and accompanied by Sam Thorpe-Spinks on guitar, The Poetry We Make shows a timely reality, made even more significant by Harris being himself a transgender actor.
Both the central theme and the point of view from which is presented are truly inspiring and would work even better if the character of Elliott had been given greater depth. There is a lot to say about the underrepresented topic of gender transition and the play has all the potential to develop into a full-length drama. To do so, playwright Jaswinder Blackwell-Pal should revisit her lead female, adding depth to many lines that currently sound dull and whimsical.
With a more accurate representation of those who fail to accept the discrepancy between sex assigned at birth and gender identity, this compelling theatrical piece can gain an even stronger meaning.
Author: Jaswinder Blackwell-Pal
Director: Edwina Strobl
Producer: Flugelman Productions
Box Office: 07598 676 202
Booking Link: https://vaultfestival.com/whats-on/the- poetry-we- make/
Booking Until: 11 February 2018