Headlining the Come As You Are Festival at Camden People’s Theatre, Milk Presents’ new show Bullish explores with wit and depth the fluid negotiation of gender transition, through the lens of the Greek myth. CPT becomes the labyrinth, now gritty, now dreamlike, in which the fierce ensemble gamble their way against any gender expectations.
[spoiler name=”Abstract: Italiano“]Dopo il successo di Joan, vincitore di The Stage, Fringe First and Spirit of the Fringe awards, Milk Presents torna sul palco del Camden People’s Theatre per aprire la rassegna sull’identità di genere Come As You Are. Bullish si appropria della figura mitologica del Minotauro per raccontare la difficoltà di vivere tra due mondi – in questo caso il maschile e il femminile, l’identità sociale e quella individuale – e il labirinto, materiale e pricologico, che i personaggi devono attraversare per conquistare la propria identità sessuale. Il libero utilizzo di cabaret, intermezzi poetici e musicali, memorie personali e materiale mitologico, fanno di Bullish uno spettacolo che diverte, disorienta, commuove e fa sentire la voglia di scoprire più a fondo chi siamo, al di là di ciò che il mondo si aspetta da noi.[/spoiler]
After the success of their previous production Joan, which won The Stage, Fringe First and Spirit of the Fringe awards, Milk Presents come back on CPT to open the Come As You Are Festival. A mix of trans, non-binary and cisgender creatives will take the stage for three weeks and explore a variety of gender issues, echoing this year’s wave of trans-themed shows at Edinburgh and London. Milk Presents is determined to rewrite the rule book, and contribute to the shift in perceptions around gender identity. The mythical figure of the Minotaur, who lives between worlds and faces alone the darkness of the labyrinth (whether material or mental), is the inspirational starting point, from which the exuberant ensemble of five retell their destiny through hilarious song and dance numbers.
First Dedalus, singing hard out about his labyrinth; then Poseidon’s side-splitting rap; Ariadne’s glittery and irreverent song; and finally Theseus, who comes to prove who the Real Man is with his disco number.
A “cabaret odyssey” which alternates the Minotaur’s tale with metaphors full of emotional depth, real experiences and conversational interludes through which we navigate the character’s but also our own labyrinth. A rite of passage which joyfully questions gender identity and strict binary expectations, aiming to disrupt and rewrite the rules, bearing in mind that our role models may not mirror what we really want to be. As Milk Presents’ Production Manager Al Orange says, our own Minotaur might be a matador, “fighting against the enemy within, a hero who also has the capacity to bring about his/her own destruction”.
Bullish is a messy, furious and hilarious play which power lies in the extraordinary ingenuity of the cast and in the clever merge of cabaret, drama and poetic interludes. All together, these dramatic devices add depth to the complex theme of gender fluidity and transitioning, making room for emotional resonance, vibrancy and mindfulness. With its fluid, multi-layered narrative, Bullish is perfectly capable to bring issues to light, so that the final explanatory section sounds somewhat didactic and unnecessary, and paradoxically ends up to disempower the play, because it puts into words what, presumably, has been already intuitively grasped by the audience.
However, this does not affect the narrative of the play which effectively fits into the increasing willingness to explore a variety of trans, non-binary and gender-queer issues on stage. As proved by festivals such as Come As You Are and Spark – a new trans arts Festival in Manchester curated by Trans Creative – and by the wide variety of shows which have recently taken London and Edinburgh by storm, it seems that an increasing number of companies, theatres and institutions are making a commitment to bringing issues to light. Funds such as Elevate, Trans Creative’s funding, and a greater focus on regional work, ACE – Arts Council England – help non-binary artists a platform and more visibility. As co-director of Milk Presents, Ruby Glaskin notices, the same conversation is happening around the world outside the theatre making bubble: John Lewis has recently announced that they will remove gender labels from their children’s clothing; on the other side, Trump’s administration scrapped a directive aimed at protecting the rights of transgender students, and reinstated a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the US armed forces. Moreover, a UK research – conducted by Pace in partnership with Brunel University, the University of Worcester, and London South Bank University – found that nearly half of the young transgender people in the UK have attempted suicide.
In this unstable climate, Alice Saville suggests that it would be counter-productive to believe in a “comforting narrative of progress”. In order to make longterm commitment to changing how everyone understands gender, and avoid the risk that trans-themed shows end up being just attention-grabbing one-offs, Saville points out that not only is urgent to change mindset and challenge perceptions of gender identity; but there is the need to ensure that gender fluid individuals are well represented within the policy and management’s frameworks. Access should be ensured whether in the artistic team – including writers, performers and directors – and in the management team – including casting directors and logistics managers, leadership and board level. Only this would make it possible for the people in power to put systems in place able to make sure changes are durable.
Camden People’s Theatre
58-60 Hampstead Rd London NW1 2PY
from Tue 12th until Sat 30th September, 7.15 pm
presented by Milk Presents
written and directed by Lucy J Skilbeck
performed by Krishna Istha, Cairo Nevitt, Lucy Jane Parkinson and Amelia Stubberfield
lighting design Joshua Pharo
music design David Lewington
design, props and costumes Emma Bailey
creative Adam Robertson
commissioned by CPT and supported by Jerwood Charitable Foundation Home Run Commission
supported by Arts Council England, Derby Theatre and The Bush Theatre