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Interview: Bringing Trans History to Camden Fringe

The Camden Fringe Interviews

Cloud Quinn and Kay Elúvian chat about The Strange Case of Dr Dillon

With trans issues being more and more discussed, it would be easy to assume that this is a rather recent thing But as Cloud Quinn and Kay Elúvian are here to tell us, the first recorded person to transistion was in fact Michael Dillon in 1940! So when we hear how far we’ve progressed, maybe 84 years is not fast!

But putting the questionable progress aside for a moment, we still wanted to know more about The Strange Case of Dr Dillon, and who better to do just that then its creative team Cloud and Kay, who found time around rehearsals to chat to us about the show that is heading to Camden People’s Theatre for Camden Fringe at the end of July.

Lovely to chat with you both, so what are your roles within the show?

I’m Cloud Quinn, writer, producer, director, and actor of The Strange Case of Dr Dillon.

And I’m Kay Elúvian, actor.

And what can audiences expect if they come along to see your show?

Cloud: Something they’ve never seen before. The story of the first trans man known to transition; here in the UK, in the 1940s! We explore Michael Dillon’s extraordinary life as an all-trans two-hander, with moments of humour to balance the pain and difficulties he faced.

Kay: A really great little package! It’s only an hour long, but it’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, it’ll make you think. What more can you ask for from a night out? 

Where will we find you during Camden Fringe then?

Cloud: Camden People’s Theatre. It has an excellent reputation for supporting emerging artists, LGBTQIA+ themed work, and new writing. 

What first led you to this story then?

Cloud: I first read about Michael Dillon while preparing some materials for LGBT History month. I subsequently read his autobiography and available biographies and felt it would make a fascinating minimalist play. 

Has it taken long from that initial idea up to putting it on the stage?

Cloud: I began the script early in 2024, and we performed it in Brighton in late May. 

Is what you’ve now created how you originally envisioned it?

Cloud: I had initially envisioned this play as a set-free one-man show. It is now a two-hander with a small set, allowing us to more deeply explore the important people in Michael’s life, including the first trans woman known to transition in the UK, Roberta Cowell. 

Kay, what’s your role then?

Kay: I play about a dozen characters throughout the show representing important elements in Michael’s life. Of all of them, Kate is my favourite. She is a really good friend, she’s smart, she’s funny, and just a lot of fun to play! 

How challenging is it to play so many characters then?

Kay: The hard part is remembering who goes where and when! Haha. 

What do you hope audiences think about your character?

Cloud: I hope people will sympathise with Michael and respect his achievements while appreciating his flaws and accepting him as a real person. He and Roberta highlight just how long trans people have been around!

What is it you hope the audience think after watching the show?

Cloud: It would be nice if it resonated with them enough to get more interested in trans stories, today and in history. It is fascinating how our place in society has changed, and continues to change. Michael Dillon was able to change his legal gender with a simple request, and according to his autobiography, there was no fuss about it. Today, trans people still have to submit evidence to a panel that we’ve been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, “lived” in our gender for two years, and have signed a statutory declaration that we’ll remain in our gender. Gender affirming healthcare is increasingly difficult to access; especially for young trans people, who are being sensationalised in the press and used as a political football. Donald Trump recently claimed that trans people have only been around for a few years! Hopefully sharing Michael’s story can help counter this sort of misinformation and encourage people to challenge it. 

Kay: That where we are now isn’t a unique place in time; it’s the latest link in a chain that stretches back to the beginning of human beings. We tell the same stories, with the same characters, and the same arc of overcoming oppression to be one’s true self comes up time and again over thousands of years. So I hope that people take away that being trans is NOT new – we’ve been around as long as humans have been around – and our fight to be ourselves is a very old one, as with all marginalised groups. 

Being Camden Fringe, we all know sets have to be bare minimum, how have you got around this with your set and props?

Kay: Cloud has done a really remarkable job in putting together a set that is startling minimalist, but also full, because everything that is used is authentic, visually interesting, and serves a purpose. So, for a set that consists ostensibly of two chairs, a trunk, and a wooden room divider, it acts as a very effective backdrop. 

What made you decide to be part of Camden Fringe this year?

Cloud: I’d watched a couple of fringe plays last year and realised just how good they could be! I was excited to take on the challenge. 

What words of advice/ encouragement would you give anyone thinking about doing Camden Fringe next year?

Cloud: Go for it – and start planning as soon as you can. There’s a lot to do. But it’s a lot of fun! CQ

And finally, if you had to describe your show as a colour, which one?

Cloud: Ocean blue-green, to represent Michael’s time in the Merchant Navy, his Irish roots, and his life journey. CQ

Kay: That’s also Cloud’s eye colour! 

Thanks to Cloud and Kay for their time to chat with us.

The Strange Case of Dr Dillon plays at Camden People’s Theatre from 29 – 31 July as part of Camden Fringe 2024. Further information and tickets can be found here.

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