Review: The Butch Monologues
Image: Soho Theatre
Developed and performed by The Drakes
A de Castro
Elijah W Harris
Tyler Luke Cunningham
A powerful and often humorous collection of secret stories exploring sexuality, vulnerability and desire taken from interviews with butches, masculine women, gender rebels and transmen, living world-wide.
The Butch Monologues brings together a collaboration between -
hotpencil press: an independent not for profit UK publishing house promoting high quality, unique, contemporary and re-visited works, largely ignored by the mainstream, under the leadership of Laura Bridgeman; Vital Xposure, a bold, dynamic touring theatre company under the creative leadership of disabled artist, Julie McNamara; and The Drakes, a group of butches, transmen and gender rebels, who joined together in the spirit of masculine solidarity, with the aim of promoting female masculinity and butch pride.
The publication of The Butch Monologues will be launched in Autumn 2017, bringing together a number of these unique and extraordinary stories.
In the twenty-first century it seems odd that our society still has strong images of how gender should be reflected in terms of what we wear and the way we look.
Even though it's pretty clear that gender is not simply a binary issue but a much more complex one, the old stereotypes of clothing and dress seem to be still entrenched, even to the extent that we have signs in retailers pointing us to departments for "men" and "women".
Doesn't everyone have the right to wear whatever they choose?
Surely the choice must be an individual one - what matters is not that we conform to arbitrary or traditional gender stereotypes, but that what people wear and how they want to look should reflect who they feel they are and how they want to appear to others.
It's not often, though, that we get the chance to obtain some understanding of the complex feelings and motivations which lie behind some people's decisions about the image they want to present to the world.
But, in The Butch Monologues, writer Laura Bridgeman has taken verbatim material obtained from interviews with masculine women, transmen and butches to provide insight into their life experiences, and their sexual and emotional identity.
Five readers provide snippets of stories and anecdotes from the lives of many different people - and not just those living in the UK and not merely about dress either.
We hear from each reader in turn and, sometimes, from the whole ensemble as they cast single words in succession in our direction for us to chew over.
The stories are read from scripts and there's no attempt to produce perfect, 'staged' performances.
That lends the production a raw and authentic feel as though we're hearing, say, diary extracts coming straight from the heart.
The sketches range over many different aspects of life including growing-up, sexual discovery, surgery, picking-out good suits in Top Man or charity shops, and even musicals put in appearance.
Though there's much humour in the stories we hear, there's also considerable sadness to be found in a show that pulls no punches, being openly direct, honest and refreshingly frank.
What pulls a lot of the stories together is the immense courage and bravery people display in coping with feeling, or being regarded by fellow humans as 'different'.
In fact it goes further, because we find people overcoming bigotry, hate and worn-out attitudes through resilience, determination and guts, and arriving at a situation where they can say with some contentment and satisfaction "I'm not on a journey, I've arrived".
One of the most powerful aspects of theatre is that it can offer a glimpse into lives we might never otherwise encounter or begin to appreciate, and that's certainly the case with The Butch Monologues.
Humorous as well as sad, this is an engaging and important piece which throws a spotlight on how gender, sexuality and self-image interact and impact on some people's life struggles.
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