Comfort, Spin, Travel

3 Mar

They are in an Officeworks store. They’re trying out the different office wheely chairs, determining which is the most comfortable, which rotates the best, and which moves around the space most effectively. They’re not looking to purchase. They’re reliving a game they used to play with their much loved little sister.

Comfort, Spin, Travel (written by Lu Bradshaw and directed by Emma Burns) presents as a generous-spirited sharing of what it is to live as a trans person. Its focus is relationships – not romantic ones – but rather those had with strangers and acquaintances, friends and family. Clearly, all is not plain sailing. There are issues regarding the nature of allyship and solidarity, the use of pronouns and personal terms of address, the pressure to advocate, the right to body modification, the importance of safe spaces … and of basic acceptance.

Performer Hadrian Conyngham has an extraordinarily engaging stage presence. The moment of coming out (“I no longer identify as a girl”) is presented with an everyday gentleness, a domestic ordinariness, that underlines its poignancy. The tale of dealing with cisgendered female friends who feel they can crash Queer Night is both an amusing self-deprecating anecdote and a moving expression of anger.

Setting the story in a late night visit to a stationery store allows for some delightful cameos from the supposed staff. Rachel Seeto, on stage throughout, creates a deliciously comic character, capturing both the lethargic alienation of the young student forced to work in retail and the vibrant human soul beneath.

This piece makes some fascinating dramatic choices. I suggested it presented as a ‘sharing’, and the honest expression of the difficulties experienced by a trans person suggests it is non-fiction, but the Officeworks scenario and the repeated reminders that the narrator might be unreliable evoke the opposite. (The press release tells me the piece is a semi-autobiographical creation of the writer.)  

Another intriguing choice is the playful conceit of the trying of the different chairs, a conceit which invites comparison with the serious story, the one about identity. Is it a trivialisation? No, it’s a theatrical artifice that forefronts the tension between choosing and being. From the outside, the chair a person ultimately chooses appears subjective; from the inside, it is an expression of the individual’s objective reality.

Which leads me to the other musing this piece launched me on. I’m not really riffing on the LGBTQIA+ moniker, but it is true that we are often tempted to view our identity as though it were like a letter in an alphabet. Who we are, is who we are. ‘B’ is not defined by ‘A’, or ‘C’, or ‘D’. They are just other letters, separate and distinct. But the phenomena of identity is perhaps more like numbers. The number ‘2’ is defined by the number ‘1’. The number ‘15’ is in a fundamental relationship with ‘14’. (For fun, or something approximating it, Google the meaning of ‘15’. Go on.) Despite the desperate weirdness of my analogy, I think it encapsulates the situation. Our identity is a deeply personal, existential thing, but it is – at least partly – dependent on society. We can identify any way we want, but if this identity is not accepted by others, we are troubled, or tortured or erased… Even the concept of pride is reactionary: an assertion that I am valuable despite any negativity from you. That the experience of identity is both personal and social is one of the great unresolvable tensions in the human condition. I imagine no-one would endure this tension if they could transcend it (but that might be more indicative of the limits of my imagination than the actual variety of lived lives.)

My self-indulgent philosophical ramblings aside, Comfort, Spin, Travel is a beautiful, vital little piece of theatre.

Paul Gilchrist

Comfort, Spin, Travel by Lu Bradshaw

presented by Fruit Box Theatre

at Meraki Arts Bar until 11 March

Image by Matthew Miceli Photography

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