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One Of Them Ones at Brixton House

It’s tempting to keep one’s head down and not engage with the ongoing conversations out there about sexual identity, especially as it’s possible to face not only criticism but personal insults for inadvertently misgendering someone. This being a play, the lines of communication are left open between Frankie (Em Thane) and their older brother Michael (Laurie McNamara): Frankie declares themselves to be transgender as well as non-binary.

One Of Them Ones. Credit Andrew Billington.
One Of Them Ones. Credit Andrew Billington.

For whatever reason, the day before Michael’s wedding is as good a time as any to have a deep and meaningful conversation about who Frankie really is. There’s also a stringent work deadline that Michael must meet, so his mind is occupied with that. Frankie’s response, to keep both their and his agendas going, is to help out with the said deadline.

Fortunately, the audience isn’t left watching both of them work for very long, with their activity frequently interrupted by conversation and even the occasional flashback scene.

Breaches of the fourth wall don’t necessarily have to involve getting the house lights up and making reserved people feel uncomfortable. Here, it’s fairly subtle, with awareness of the audience’s presence and the need to provide enough context for it to follow proceedings sufficiently. I wonder, however, if the play spends too much time trying to force through a happy ending – the premise being that the audience demands it. I suppose the idea of resolving characters’ confusion within a play’s narrative by way of a happy ending goes back at least as far back as Shakespeare’s comedies: here, it demonstrates what could be and what could happen.

To achieve the kind of understanding Frankie and Michael reach, however, requires a level of patience and civility that, to put it excessively mildly, is lacking if not completely absent in certain quarters: even asking questions and attempting to engage in dialogue is seen as threatening and predatory behaviour from a position of cisgender privilege (whatever that means). How refreshing, then, that this play isn’t afraid to explore various lines of arguments – at one point, gloriously mischievously. There’s anger and there’s frustration, but there are also moments of tenderness and palpable love.

If the humour is acerbic at times, it’s in the context of a sibling relationship – they have been ribbing one another from a very young age. Having recently seen a different show that, in effect, asserted LGBT+ people have no place in the countryside and should relocate to somewhere more urban if they want to be accepted for who they are, it’s pleasing to see this production challenge that still prevalent viewpoint.

The set is colourful, because there’s paint involved (no, nobody paints a rainbow). Some music provides a pulsating beat, largely with familiar chart music tunes. A point about not shoehorning people into ‘boxes’ that aren’t suitable for them is made with considerable gusto, and the production captures the youthful vibrance of the siblings through movement and brisk dialogue. I’m still not entirely convinced by Michael’s Damascene conversion – it came across as a bit too good to be true. That said, hope springs eternal in this thoughtful and provocative production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A dazzling new play about two siblings living in a rural community trying to get their heads around gender identity. Frankie is desperate to be understood, accepted, loved. But LGBTQ alphabet soup has got Michael’s head spinning. Why’s it gotta be so complicated? Why can’t they understand? Why can’t things go back to the way they always were? Unpicking the complexities of identity and the fierce family love that hopefully holds us together.

Brixton House 385 Coldharbour Ln, London SW9 8GL

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