Ovalhouse, London – until 19 October 2019
The main stage at Ovalhouse isn’t there anymore. Neither is the floor beneath it or the concrete foundations below, but there is a hole, and a lot of yellowish dirt. Emma Frankland and other four trans and non-binary artists are energetically digging it, searching for relics and memories of their trans family that preceded them. They also dance, tell stories and share their fears and hopes for the future in this vulnerable and celebratory performance piece on trans identity and lived experience.
Frankland begins on her own, quietly explaining how she came to project that’s part of the last season in Ovalhouse’s current building, which will be demolished after they relocate to their new premises in Brixton. The casualness of her introduction is misleading though, as the other four performers soon join her with delightful ferocity and ritualistically dance around the pit. Their costumes are a fabulous combination of builder and flamboyant – think boots and hardhats meet glitter crop-tops and short shorts.
There are moments of fevered, sweaty digging which are set against sequences of relaxed, intimate conversation. Tamarra from Indonesia asks what everyone’s cita-cita (goals) are, and the answers remind the cis people in the audience of their privilege – Frankland wants to grow old, others want to be safe and happy. In a world where transphobia and violence against trans people is increasing, and the theatre industry newspaper will take a stand against homophobia but commission a column from a notorious transphobe, it’s vital that we remember trans people do not have basic, human rights.
There is also a strong thread of environmentalism through the piece, giving the work further relevance and dramaturgical complexity. As well as the ‘digging into the past’ metaphor, there is thoughtful conversation on what humans have taken from the earth and the destruction we’ve left in our wake.
Though there is a closing movement piece that doesn’t have the same narrative or stylistic choices as the rest of the show and as such feels tacked on without reason, the rest of it is cohesive and powerful. Seeing a group of trans and non-binary people claim space like this and openly share and reflect on the lives of trans people past and present is beautiful and important.