Home » Reviews » Off West End » Boy in a Dress, Battersea Arts Centre

Boy in a Dress, Battersea Arts Centre

La JohnJoseph

Directed by Sarah Chew


Pros: A fun riot of a show with an intelligent core and an impressive insight into an unusual life.

Cons: If you’re not interested in 20th Century philosophy, this may not be for you.

Our Verdict: An emboldening story which grabs the audience attention and refuses to let it go.
Courtesy of Battersea Arts Centre

Boy in a Dress is both entertaining and fun which is quite remarkable considering it is a story about prejudice, hardship and loneliness. As the name suggests, the plot revolves around gender conformity and rebellion, oppressive religions, class confusion and general wrestling with the status quo. The entire production illustrates the social constructs which exist in the UK and US and this is arguably the strongest part of the play. At one point, protagonist La JohnJoseph comments that the freedoms everyone benefits from today weren’t fought for by gay men wearing black suits and listening to iPods. It is through loud and proud diversity of those that refuse to remain conformists that alters the nature of what we think of as the status quo. Through music, song and staunch self-belief, this is a strong story which grabs the audience’s attention and refuses to let it go.

This work is an autobiography and rarely do you find one which explores such a wide gamut of social issues without resorting to self-pity or self-righteousness. Yes, there are moments of sadness and anger, but these are so well-reasoned that none of the people referred to are painted as ‘bad people’ but merely bad choices.  If you’re of the determinist philosophical bent that believes in the intrinsic goodness of all people, then everything about this production will appeal to you.

Whilst being flamboyant and bold, the production is also deeply personal. It is easy for real life stories (especially when acted and written by the central character) to only present a mask which conceals the actual self, but the theme of the show is about denying masks and having the freedom to be what is underneath. Where this production could easily be another funny and frivolous fantasy of a drag queen, it ruthlessly avoids cliché’s and tells the spiritual, emotional and determined journey of a third-gendered person’s search for identity.

The staging is perfectly designed to be both anywhere and nowhere, reflecting the perceptions of the protagonist. It creates and facilitates mystery and allows for seamless scene changes. You very much feel as though you are hiding out in the attic of an antique shop with items that don’t sell but whose worth will someday be realised – a suitably symbolic sentiment for the La JohnJoseph’s story. This is intelligent set design at its absolute finest.

All in all, this is an intricate, intelligent and fabulous production about the life of La JohnJospeh created by a terrific cast and crew. This is a must-see.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Boy in a Dress runs at Battersea Arts Centre until 16th March 2013.
Box Office: 0207 223 2223 or book online at https://www.bac.org.uk/bac/shows_list

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