When I read the line-up for tonight's theatre at the Burton Taylor Studio, I knew it would be an interesting evening. Especially as my partner has recently begun his own transition as female-to-male transgender. We weren't disappointed.
The first show, Cashiered, told a fictionalised story of a real person, Albert Cashier, a young man who enlisted in the army at Belvidere, Illinois and fought during the American Civil War. However, Albert had a secret he managed to keep for most of his life. He was born Jennie Hodgers. Even if you placed his story in today's society where, thank goodness, transgender is no longer taboo, it would still be an interesting one. His father dressed him as a boy from an early age so that he had one more pair of hands to send out to earn money, which raises the question whether it was Cashier's circumstances and upbringing that created this need in him to continue living as male, or whether that was just a coincidence of fate and he would have always left Jennie Hodgers behind and adopted his real persona as Albert.
We were treated to some excellent performances by the student company Planetarium Productions as they gave us a spellbinding rendition of the last days of Albert's life, interspersed with flashback scenes from his time in the army. In the writer's note on the programme, Hannah Greenstreet states that she wanted to give Albert a voice. She certainly achieved that. My partner and I were gripped, as were the rest of the audience; it was only when the play had finished and the house lights were up that people started making any noise – coughing, fidgeting, breathing even! It was a fascinating story handled beautifully, so beautifully that I had to have a personal moment before facing the world, to compose myself and wipe away my tears.
After an hour or so in the pub next door (and a delicious pint of ale), discussing Cashiered, we headed back to the Studio for our second show of the evening, Binding. Although it explores similar transgender themes as Cashiered, it was very different in tone. Archie (birth name Annabel) welcomed the audience into their non-binary world, talking to us through the medium of YouTube. A much more modern take on the issues surrounding the transgender movement, and the difficulties faced by members of its community, Binding was in turn humorous, poignant, uncomfortable and ultimately enlightening. Archie is very revealing with their YouTube friends, and tries to be as open with their parents, but is constantly battled to become 'unbound' by the conventions being thrust upon them by their generational prejudices. My first words on leaving the auditorium were 'I want the script' because all the way through I was thinking 'I must remember that, what a great quote'. It was brilliantly written (Jessy Parker Humphreys) and the words were brought to life by the cast with care and great realism. My partner could relate to so much that Archie was going through, which is a testament to Livi Dunlop's thought-provoking performance. Zoe Helding ended the show with a touching monologue discussing Archie's move from YouTube (their parents punish them by removing their laptop) to the analogue world of zines, handed out to the audience by Archie, and we left the theatre with a positive message that the trans voice will not be silenced.