This new play by trans writer Travis Alabanza ran at the Bush Theatre last December for a week before venues in London were instructed to close.
Now, Overflow returns as a digital stream and proves to be an intriguing hour about the politics of women’s bathrooms and who is allowed in them.
Reece Lyons, herself a trans woman, plays Rosie, and she’s telling us her thoughts, fears and stories from the set of a bathroom which allows her both the freedom of movement and ability to voice her concerns from her own journey.
Directed by Debbie Hannan and designed by Max Johns (set), Jess Bernberg (lighting) and Francis Botu (sound), the piece is honest, open, thought-provoking, funny and heartbreaking.
Lyons can make Rosie’s lines hilarious at one point, then achingly sad at another. Two incidents recounted at length – the overflow of a school toilet, and workplace discrimination in the queue for the ladies – are matter-of-fact but equally unjust.
As a trans ally and a cis woman, I would never presume to know how it feels to grow up with the knowledge that you are something other than how you present. To hear the word “freak” and feel eyes on you always, wondering if you pass and what might “give the game away”.
As Rosie, locked in the loo where she should feel safe to go about her business, talks of “pre-emptive peeing” and asks what other women are doing to “make sure I feel safe before I enter”, we feel her anger and frustration. It’s a compelling performance.
The issue of women’s bathrooms seems to be a major torch paper issue for radical feminists, who see all men (even those who have/are transitioned or who live as women or non-binary) as threats.
As Overflow explores, this sometimes feels like an obsession and a persecution: “there isn’t a world where cis people aren’t paying attention to us”. Alabanza’s text reminds us that we can and should do more to support our trans sisters.
Lyons’Rosie, in her tight black dress, Doc Martens, and willowy legs, looks every inch the confident woman you’d chat to in a queue or befriend in a club. The empathy between performer and character is clear and very powerful, and there isn’t a moment when you’re not on her side.
Alabanza’s language often takes inspiration from the elements: waves, water, glass. The props on the set become weapons, positions of power, places to regroup. I don’t know about men’s loos, but in women’s the group and the camaderie plays a big part. Sisterhood and solidarity.
I finished this stream hoping Rosie’s situation, and that for those like her, could improve. As she says at one point, “if I don’t feel shame, the world will do everything to make me feel it”. That’s not OK. We all need to do better.
Overflow streams until 23 January 2021.