Southwark Playhouse, London – until 28 March 2020
What Is It? A two hander about teenage Tommy, who likes dressing as a woman but doesn’t like labels, and Jordan, whose friendship encourages Tommy to face up to his anxieties. The twist is that both characters are played by adult women.
What Is It About? Tommy’s – and the play’s – resistance of gendered labels is a refreshing response to contemporary identity politics. Tommy just wants to be Tommy, but he struggles to accept the way the outside world sees him, and has been signed off school with anxiety and a small arsenal of medication. Jordan is ‘cool’ and has a girlfriend, but is more interested in Tommy and his lip gloss expertise.
Some of the most moving moments in the play come from Tommy reminding Jordan to touch up the corners of his mouth, or picking out which eyeshadow colours go together. However, there is trouble in this powder puff paradise, as Jordan and Tommy wrestle over the terms of their relationship, and of their own identity.
How Did It Make Me Feel? No spoilers, but the play’s bittersweet ending is a perfect tribute to its embrace of ambiguity. However, the production plays the mood of its ending the whole way through, to the detriment of the joy that is surely needed for us to really root for this friendship.
This does glimmer through at points, aided by Whitney Houston in an LGBT club. Also, the staging is beautifully simple, with a strong lighting and sound design that allows them to make the most out of a small and basic stage set-up. The conceit of casting two women as the male characters adds poignancy to this parable of identity and is a neat way of convincing us of the constraints of gender expectations.
The performances of both actors is strong; neither character is played with a generic teenage wash but rather with subtlety. Nevertheless, there is an oddly mature dynamic to their relationship, with none of the fizz that you would expect from characters of this age.
Anything Else? The script is funnier and warmer than the ponderous pace of this otherwise slick production quite allows it to be. Grace AK x Lipstick is playing at Southwark Playhouse until the 28th March 2020. If you like our reviews and want to support this blog feel free to buy any of us a virtual coffee here!