A show like And The Rest Of Me Floats could not have been better timed, at the time of writing. It is incredibly topical. This exploration of gender identity comes shortly after Clarks, the high street retailer, announced plans for unisex school shoes, promoting a “gender neutral ethos”. Last year, the Barbican Centre in London introduced gender neutral toilets. Although what I suppose would be termed ‘gender specific’ ones are still available, the move prompted complaints. And just hours before the performance of And The Rest Of Me Floats I attended, ITV announced a new mini-series called Butterfly, which they say is “a beautiful story about a young boy on the cusp of puberty who doesn’t feel comfortable in his own body”.
Clearly curated pre-show music filtered through the auditorium speakers. These were tunes that had a clear emphasis on the power of one’s gender. I wear personal ignorance of chart music almost as a badge of honour, but even I easily recognised the distinguished vocals of Percy Sledge (1940-2015): “When a maa-aan loves a woman!”, as well as those of Cyndi Lauper singing ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’. As the show went on, I couldn’t help but think of Lauper’s musical, Kinky Boots, and wondered whether And The Rest Of Me Floats was going to tell the audience anything other than the memorable lines from the closing number of the Broadway and West End blockbuster: “Just be / Who you wanna be / Never let ‘em tell you who you ought to be / Just be / With dignity / Celebrate yourself triumphantly”.
On one level, not really, which, truth be told, is no bad thing, as it’s something that is difficult to over-emphasise. But the devil is in the detail, and while the character development is sporadic, at least in conventional theatrical terms, the narrative struck a chord with people in this receptive audience. It doesn’t have to be a case of gender identity that makes someone connect with this short but effective show. If there’s been any sort of pressure to conform to a supposed normality with which someone feels uncomfortable with, that someone will find something in this show that broadly reflects that situation.
Numbers form a substantial part of the show’s dialogue. To be blunt, the company sounded like bingo callers at times, which I didn’t think was strictly necessary. That the vast majority of characters are nameless, and no character names are listed in the show’s programme, more than sufficiently drives home the message that transgender people feel ignored, unnoticed, even shunned – a number, but not a name.
This is very much an ensemble piece of theatre, and the physical movement flowed very well – perhaps too fluidly for a show that wishes to highlight individuality, but it was a pleasure to see all the same. The various states of dress and undress are open to interpretation. Are they indicative of indecisiveness? Is there a ‘double life’ going on? Or perhaps both? A long line of questions in one scene, apparently real questions that have been asked of transgender people, included, “Are you autistic, [because] most trans people are?” and, even more bizarrely, “Are you vegan?”, as though there was a mutual exclusivity between sexual orientation and eating lifestyle.
The action is continuous, with scene changes quick and seamless, either because some of them are actually quick and seamless or because transitions are well-covered with the help of live music.
There’s some lovely actor-musicianship to be seen. Breaches of the fourth wall were pleasant, conversational in the first instance and celebratory in the second. The company performed a rendition of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, and the chart music recording, which has sold millions of copies worldwide, was played as play-out music after the curtain call. I preferred this production’s version.
The sheer number of different storytelling techniques used in this production could, in lesser skilled hands, have made the whole thing disjointed and unfocused. Here, while there are one or two quirky moments that didn’t fully make sense to me, there’s much to be enjoyed in an energetic and passionate performance.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Outbox Theatre present a new show all about the messy business of gender. Working with performers from across the trans*, non-binary, lesbian and gay communities, Outbox Theatre examine the ways in which gender is questioned, categorised, and policed (often violently so). And The Rest Of Me Floats is devised by the company and weaves together autobiographical performance, movement, pop songs, stand-up and dress-up in an anarchic celebration of the body that refuses to conform.
This show couldn’t come at a more relevant time – a Stonewall-commissioned survey in 2017 tells us that almost half of trans pupils in the UK have attempted to take their own lives and hate crime towards the LGBTQ community is on the rise. In their inimitable style, acclaimed theatre company Outbox take an unflinching look at how gender impacts the queer body. Expect bold, exciting and experimental theatre made by an extra-fierce company of talented performers.
Director: Ben Buratta
Designer: Rūta Irbite
Elijah W Harris
Emily Joh Miller
Tamir Amar Pettet
Date: 12th -23RD SEPTEMBER (EXCLUDING 17,18TH)
Venue: Mill Co. Rose Lipman Building, 43 De Beauvoir Rd, London N1 5SQ
Date: 13TH-14TH NOVEMBER
Venue: Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Chamberlain Square, Centenary Square, Birmingham B3 3HQ