My expectations and excitement before going into the review Trans Scripts, or – to give it it’s full title, Trans Scripts, Part I, The Women – were high to say the absolute least. But I was also very nervous, suspecting it might pander too much to a mainstream audience and skip over all of the key challenges faced by women in the same boat as I am.
Thankfully, early on, all of my fears were allayed – particularly when it considered the complications which can arise when it comes to genital surgery. I was also impressed by its focus on the psychological, emotional and sociological aspects, rather than sensationalising or obsessing on the medicalisation side of such procedures. The play does still manage to do the whole mainstream thing, though, but only to the minimal extent it needed; it very much is a piece for and by trans women.
The six central protagonists (I won’t refer to them as characters as they are directly based on real life women) only real connection is that they all happen to be transsexual women. Their names are Zakia, Josephine, Luna, Tatiana, Eden, and Swing; they are each respectively portrayed by Carloyn M. Smith, Catherine Fitzgerald, Jay Knowles, Bianca Leigh, Rebecca Root, and Gail Winar and each of them play their roles with intense humanity, passion and dedication.
The audience really gets to know and care for the six protagonists, as their lives are beautifully examined by the playwright and cast and focus on the light sides and dark sides of their lives, in this intense and heavy going – but by no means depressing – play, which explores the highs and lows of each of their lives.
From physical and emotional health matters (including one who was born intersex and then medically assigned the wrong gender), dealing with friends, family (or lack thereof) and strangers alike, to tackling self-loathing, self-destructiveness and substance abuse, to the realities of life as a stage performer, or sex worker. The play is unafraid to consider heavier issues of religion, politics, and civil rights (one of them has links to the Stonewall riot in 1969), alongside themes of love, happiness, betrayal, despair and reconciliations. It even emphasises the importance of treating yourself to mundane things – such as substituting sex and companionship for a tub of ice cream.
The play’s boldest and smartest creative decision was choosing to examine the infuriatingly stark divisions that exist within the trans community itself over who is, and who isn’t, trans enough or female – or male – enough. Or indeed if anyone is too trans, or too male or female. When that schism’s nasty head was posited to the audience, honestly, a part of me wanted to jump up and cheer!
Because the playwright and producer Paul Lucas, who in preparation for writing the play, interviewed 75 trans people had clearly listened to those concerns, and then had the courage and the integrity to tackle what is quite possibly the most problematic, thorny and divisive internal issue within the trans community. Conversely, the reaction from many cis-people in the audience to this revelation caused a bit of a stir and a few gasps; they clearly had not considered such fracturing within our already marginalised community. Almost every time that this issue has been raised previously by other storytellers it is usually treated glibly as just bitchiness, or as the by-product of raging hormones; however, the production team and cast handled those aspects of the play with incredible sensitivity and compassion for all sides of that debate.
Ultimately, I felt Trans Scripts was about the loneliness that we trans people feel and how all we really want and need to be able to sit down and share an ice cream with the one person dearest to our hearts, and to be accepted by them for who and what we are – alas, not all of us are given that option in our lives, for whatever reason.
The play is revelatory: not because of what was said, but because of how it was expresed. I could see large chunks of my myself and lots of my trans friends in it (both Male to Female, and Female to Male) within all of the people portrayed in it, and in some instances least of all because the obvious trans aspect. I really cannot rate this play highly enough and proudly recommend it to everyone. It deserves to be seen, and seen again.
If indeed Trans Scripts, Part II, The Men does become a reality (please, please, please!), it needs to explore many of the issues that couldn’t be raised by Part I, and not just the obvious aspects that Part II will naturally deal with, but also continue to investigate and expand upon the broader collective transgender themes that this instalment had.
Trans Scripts is playing at the Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33), at 15:00 daily until 31st August.