‘I’m Glad I’m Not Alone’ – Travesti

Six men in suits talk make-up, body hair and sexual assault in Travesti, a humorous, unnerving and powerful piece of verbatim theatre directed by Rebecca Hill. Putting women’s words into men’s mouths, Travesti has found a way to creatively share real stories of sexism without screaming its message or alienating its audience. Fringebiscuit caught up with cast members Aled Bidder, Dominic Attenborough and John Askew, and producer Bradley Leech, to find out about their hopes for Travesti, how audiences have responded, and whether speaking the words of women has changed the all-male cast. 
The unique thing about Travesti is that it is men speaking women’s real stories as if they were their own. Do you think it’s more powerful coming from men?

John: I think it’s a really clever decision by [producer] Bradley and [director] Rebecca Hill to cast it as men, because that is in itself saying there is an issue. It’s not like, oh there is gender equality, because there isn’t. If six girls stood and talked about wearing make-up, not that that isn’t noteworthy, but it lands differently to six men talking about it. And we hope that it will make the audience think actually we can talk about this, it’s not just a ‘women’s thing’.

Dom: I think something I hope for, when we’re on stage, is that people kind of forget about gender for a minute and class it as six people. These are six people’s stories – and I think the word people is quite an important one.

Do you think the issues that arise in Travesti are ones men think about?

John: I think about those issues now, but before I wouldn’t have. I realised when I was going through the script that actually they’re quite universal issues – like being scared on public transport, I don’t think that’s a gender thing. I think late night busses are a scary place. It’s intimidating, you know, even for guys as muscly as me… We had long discussions in rehearsals and things came up that I’d never thought about before, and I shocked myself that I’d never thought in that way. The line Dom has ‘you’re only defined as feminine if you’re hairless’, was a big one for me. I’d never questioned that, ever. So it’s really interesting to have that provocation and think, why do I buy into it?

Aled: Hopefully that’s the effect of the play as well. It doesn’t make an effort to slap you in the face with any message. I think we just try and present the stories as truthfully as we can, and hopefully that’s effective because it makes people just kind of go, ‘oh wait’. Exactly like John and a lot of us did. And we definitely didn’t want to play the roles as women, or make any weird decision with our performances to try and indicate that we were being women. We just try to play them as ourselves, and connect with them as if these things had happened to us.

Has Travesti changed your perception of women and their experiences?

John: I’m just really sorry for my behaviour. I’ve been so ignorant to these things.

Dom: I think that’s exactly it. It’s the ignorance that’s being highlighted. That’s one of the big things for me, that it’s not active – because you don’t have to be actively being malicious or insulting towards someone to still be doing these things. A lot of it is just ignorance on the part of both men and women.

Repeating the stories every day, do you every find yourselves getting desensitised? 

Aled: The show is incredibly important to us, so I don’t think we’d let ourselves. I think we’ve got a duty of care to the people and to the stories. But I guess you do have to really strive not to get complacent with this show, and to know that every time you walk on stage you’ve got something important to say.

John: You have to remember how brave these women were to divulge what they divulged and to trust us with that. And I don’t think there is a danger of getting desensitised when you think about them sitting in the room and telling these real stories that happened to them. The fact that they were so brave and gave us that means it’s really our job to do it justice.

What’s the purpose of Travesti?

Bradley: The play is certainly not trying to be a solution to a problem, it’s more highlighting that the problem exists. Why is it acceptable for people to say ‘yeah, it’s just what happens’? It’s not acceptable. Just because it happens doesn’t mean it’s right. But because it happens often people forget that it’s still an issue.

The real soul of the play is that it’s about humanity. It’s about the fact that we are all human, and that, although there are differences, we should still have that basic human respect, care and generosity to each other.

There are a lot of women who are talking about these things, but society as a whole has just stopped listening. So, whether it is right or wrong, and it is wrong that men’s voices dominate society, putting these issues in the mouths of men means you’re actually having men listen as well and you’re not just preaching to the choir anymore.

How have people been responding to Travesti?

John: Quite a few have come and said thank you for doing this, which is the best I think.

Bradley: It’s clear that people are getting something from it, even if it’s just thinking ‘oh God I’m glad I’m not alone in thinking these things’.

John: I’ve not done many shows when I’ve looked out at the audience and they’ve been nodding. They really are there with you, nodding and smiling. And a lot of the time when they’re laughing it’s because that’s happened to them. It’s really powerful to have everyone in the room knowing what we’re talking about.

Aled: I feel when we perform this play it’s not just a presentation, it’s a conversation with the room, and the audience is like the seventh member of this group that are all round a table in a pub or something, just chatting. One lady, who I think was in her 50s, came up to one of us and said, “Thank you very much for doing the play, erm, somebody flashed me once when I was 11”. And she started laughing. And it was like this play had made it alright for her to come up to us and talk about this really terrible thing that has happened. And hopefully, if people have had these things happen to them, maybe they’ll feel a little bit less alone. That’s what I hope. That it’s not just us on the stage doing a presentation, but that we’re all in this together.

Travesti, Pleasance Dome, Aug 16-18, 20-25

 

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