Rachael’s Café is the true story of Rachael, who left a life as Eric, a salesman with a wife and kids, to live as a trans woman and open a café in Bloomington, Indiana. Through monologue Rachael tells us about her life and the events that lead to her serving home cooked dishes, full of love in a place where “everyone is welcome, no exceptions”.
You’d be forgiven in thinking this is going to be an hour and five minutes of gay bashing, broken hearts and confused children. Instead, writer/director Lucy Danser chooses to avoid the melodrama by focusing on the small victories and set-backs that make up all our lives, creating a story that is both approachable and refreshingly honest, much like Rachael herself.
The story is moved forward by minor incidents that spark a memory or thought in Rachael, beautifully underplayed by Graham Elwell. His shrugging off of a window smashed by vandals, which he was reminded of by a receipt, says volumes about her strength of character and outlook on life, whilst the wobble in her voice tells us this is not something she’s okay with.
Elwell’s performance, on which the show is carried, is more than just a storyteller. It’s clear a lot of care has been put in by himself and Danser to make sure this is an accurate portrayal as a trans woman. Whilst not played out and out as a female, there’s never a moment of “man in dress – ha ha”. This layered performance allows us to understand a person caught between two worlds.
This is probably why the play, aside from a couple of good digs at the representation of trans people in the media, avoids the LGBT label. It’s here for everyone, a testament to the human spirit that everyone can relate to.
Certain parts of the play didn’t quite come together. It was hard to work out just how much Rachael was aware of us, the audience, and on occasion it felt a little like this made the performance self conscious, a pity when you consider the honesty that had been coming across before. I would also lose the lighting changes that signified a darker memory; Elwell’s performance can handle that just fine.
It wasn’t until the end of the show that I realised how incredibly moved I was, not just Rachael’s story but by her strength of character. It’s easy to see the events unfolding in front of you as fiction, but Graham Elwell managed to keep an honesty present throughout, and as the play reached it’s conclusion it became clear how much he was immersed in this character.
This is no “inspired by true events” biopic that uses the fact it actually happened to create interest and shock. Lucy Danser has created an amazing play from Rachael’s story that is as fascinating as anything in the West End at the moment, all served with the love that the lady herself serves her customers.
Review by Max Sycamore
Rachael’s Café is written and directed by Lucy Danser, with lighting design by Owen Evans. It is produced by Little Fly Theatre.
Tuesday 25th February to Saturday 15th March 2014
OLD RED LION THEATRE
418 St John Street, London EC1V 4NJ
Performances: Tuesdays-Saturdays 7:30pm, Saturdays and Sundays 3:00pm
Tickets: £15 (£12 previews), £12 concessions, £10 on Sundays.
Box Office: 0844 412 4307
Saturday 1st March 2014