Lion & Unicorn Theatre, London – until 31 July 2021
As writer and performer Kim Scopes points out, bisexual representation on our stages and screens is limited. When a bisexual character appears at all, they are usually defined by their sexual activity and reduced to shallow, biphobic stereotypes. So a whole show about being attracted to more than one gender, made by a bisexual/queer person, is hugely exciting. Unfortunately, despite many great ideas and individual moments of excellent execution, this production feels like a disjointed work-in-progress with sections that only tenuously connect to each other.
The strongest part comes first, which is modelled on a game show format. It begins with the host asking Scopes ‘what are you?’, then Scopes being set a series of tasks by this disembodied voice. These tasks are often absurd and always adherent to the status quo that at best ignores bisexuals, and at worst is hostile and abusive. Scopes navigates these tasks using physical theatre and clowning; her timing is exquisite and she evokes regular laughs. Individual moments and tasks mock bisexual stereotypes – such as the inability to sit on chairs properly – and make for excellent set pieces. Scopes is inherently funny and an excellent clown; her performance is the strongest element of the production.
However, a game show exists for contestants to try to win something, such as prestige or a cash prize. Its dramaturgical structure supports the contestant’s quest to reach an end goal that will benefit them, usually in a huge way. But in this instance, Scopes does not have the autonomy to choose to participate, nor is there a possibility of winning anything. She is confused when she finds herself on the show, and the host demanding that Scopes proves what she is, does nothing to serve her.
It’s clear that the game show is a metaphor for a society that is inherently biphobic, but using the format this way isn’t particularly effective. There’s nothing at stake whether she wins or loses, so even a Hunger Games angle doesn’t apply here – answering the host’s question correctly doesn’t come with a reward. Failing to answer it doesn’t result in punishment. Additionally, with the premise of the game show hinging on a question – ‘what are you?’ – rather than an overarching objective works against any real progression of action.
After the game show section ends, Scopes is left alone on the stage. She sincerely monologues about her experience of finding language to describe her sexuality, experiences of biphobia, and eventually feeling comfortable enough to live her truth. Whilst she is honest and vulnerable in her narrative, there is no form or style through-line that connects this part of the show to the one before it. A coda of what is presumably verbatim accounts from bisexual people, and the game show attempting to start again but failing due to Scopes’ rejection, further muddy the overarching structure of the piece. These separate components thematically relate to each other in that they’re about bisexuality, but there’s little else that connects them.
Despite the structural and stylistic issues, there’s heaps of potential. Overhauling the game show format, raising its stakes, and making it the crux of the show would give Scopes a great vehicle to showcase her brilliant clowning even further and also provide space and time to more thoroughly dig into issues of representation and biphobia that are already present. Theatre needs more bisexual stories and with further development, this show could go a long way in improving representation.