WRITER: TRAVIS ALABANZA
DIRECTOR: DEBBIE HANNAN
CAST: REECE LYONS
BUSH THEATRE UNTIL 16 JANUARY 2021
REVIEW by SUSAN GRAY
Ladies’ loos are having quite the dramatic moment. Joanna Lumley took refuge in one to escape a social media scrum in Radio 4’s Meltdown last month; similarly, Reece Lyons as Rosie seeks sanctuary in the Bush’s Overflow.
Travis Alabanza’s play explores what it is to be a trans woman in 21st century Britain, charting Rosie’s journey from being Rob at a West Country Catholic primary school, to being club aficionado Rosie in contemporary London. Rosie’s hour- long reminisces and recreations, are disturbingly punctuated by a menacing knocking, from forces she knows from experience mean her no good.
Central to Rosie’s recollection is Charlotte, a school friend who becomes a closer confidante in early adulthood, bonded by shared childhood memories and a love of clubbing. But Charlotte's is a pick and mix approach to Rosie’s safety, willing to steam into attacks by strangers on nights out, but reluctant to challenge her own friends’ transphobic views (“you should have made the room safe for me before I went in”) which puts their relationship in jeopardy. Trans woman Zee’s light also fades when she exchanges co-revelling in how “fucking gorgeous” she and Rosie look as “two star cross-dressed lovers”, for respectable lesbian cohabitation North of the river - "I’d need to book an EasyJet flight to get there.”
Running parallel to Rosie’s disappointing relationships is her loss of easy access to women’s loos. At some undefined point the welcome she enjoyed in the toilet cistern sisterhood, where the observation “He’s not worth it babe” rings out on a nightly, if not hourly basis, was replaced by territorial hostility. Mumsnet posters do not come out well either. Excluding trans women from traditionally female spaces, is a way for cis* women to feel powerful, the argument goes. Crushing trans women is a displacement activity for turning fire on their real oppressor, men. “Men are so hard to look at, actual men … Make the thing you fear a bit further away from you, and you make me the boogie man.”
Alabanza's very personal take on the disconnect between public virtue and private hypocrisy, a topic beloved by Regency and Victorian novelists where characters keep 'Bibles on the table and playing cards in the drawer', is contemporary and vibrant.
Rosie’s cathartic finale makes the most of the club bog set, which must have given the Bush’s insurers a few sleepless nights (and will also bring gushes of laughter from anybody who’s ever despaired at a DIY plumbing YouTube video, before resignedly calling the emergency plumber and parting with a fortune). Lyons gives an energetic performance, owning both the set and Alabanza’s words. Debbie Hannan’s direction makes the most of the energy of an early twenty's performer, bringing to life a fellow twentysomething’s script, and does not shy away from Overflow being a polemic, with a mandate to educate as well as entertain.
Rosie becomes free when she faces others' projected shame head on, calling out society’s reflexive anthropological gaze, “stop looking”. A tricky message to convey in a one performer show, but one Overflow pulls off.
* Cis is short for cisgender, which refers to when a person's gender identity corresponds to their sex as assigned at birth (dictionary.com)