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Overflow by Travis Alabanza at the Bush Theatre | Review

Reece Lyons (Rosie) holds the audience captive – in a good way – for the duration of the show in a performance that manages to be both protective and celebratory. There’s an overflow in Overflow, of water, thanks to a water blockage in a toilet Rosie finds herself in. That she is in there at all is down to bully vultures who (it would appear) will not, for whatever reason, accept that trans women are women, and have nothing better to do with their time than hound her, repeatedly banging on the toilet door in the hope that she will come out, and they can either beat her to a pulp, verbally abuse her, or both.

Reece Lyons in 'Overflow' at Bush Theatre. Photo Helen Murray.
Reece Lyons in ‘Overflow’ at Bush Theatre. Photo Helen Murray.

At least that’s the impression that is quickly gained by someone who spends an hour in the loo not doing anything other than a “pre-emptive piss”, which she asserts is the best kind of discharge, because one is in control of when it happens, as opposed to visiting a convenience out of sheer need or even desperation. With much of the rest of her life and situation seemingly not in her control, it’s an indication of how desperate (so to speak) Rosie has become in her quest to simply be left alone to live her life without being hounded, bullied or worse.

The bulk of the story consists of recollections of her school years. Being a pupil at a Catholic school meant there was an emphasis on guilt and sin, and a rather amusing account of a zealous teacher who was determined to discover who the culprit of a repeated misdemeanour was did much to consolidate an already strong rapport with the audience. It may be a little contrived, this non-conformist student in what was effectively a religious institution, but it is pleasing to note that she emerged from that time of her life relatively unscathed. Or did she?

Life, we are told, is like a hamster wheel with multiple knives being thrown at you. Perhaps nothing screams ‘global pandemic’ louder than that, though Rosie is invariably thinking of what happened in the past and what is likely to happen in the future. She resolves, rightly, that she’s going to stop both literally and figuratively hiding in the (water) closet, and get on with her life. She is also savvy enough to know that her onward journey is going to be far from smooth (hence the analogy about knives), and I found it difficult not to have slight reservations about her seemingly completely throwing caution to the wind. In the end, however, she shouldn’t shy away and socially distance in perpetuity. The decision to ‘fight’ rather than ‘flight’ may not be universally applicable, but it has its parallels in many other situations. The show is, in that regard, inspirational.

There have been various conversations in the last few years about public conveniences, with some venues (including the Bush Theatre) opting for gender-neutral facilities. The reminiscing of Rosie’s teenage years recalls a time when the loo was, in a way, a place of communal safety, where she would talk to classmates about how to deal with various problems. There’s never a cry for help or sympathy – the show is distinctly un-melodramatic – but the production strongly suggests, without hypocrisy, that kindness and courtesy can be incredibly life-affirming.

Sit in the front row at your own risk: Overflow gives recent productions of Singin’ In The Rain a run for their money in what I term ‘splashability’. But there’s enjoyment in that, and there’s meant to be, in this defiant, witty and intelligent production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Club toilets have taught me more about sisterhood than any book

Cornered into a flooding toilet cubicle and determined not to be rescued again, Rosie distracts herself with memories of bathroom encounters, drunken heart-to-hearts by dirty sinks, friendships forged in front of crowded mirrors, and hiding from trouble.

But with her panic rising and no help on its way, can she keep her head above water?

Bush Theatre presents
Overflow
By Travis Alabanza
Performed by Reece Lyons
Directed by Debbie Hannan
Design by Max Johns
Lighting Design by Jess Bernberg
Sound Design by Francis Botu
Movement Direction by Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster
Voice and Accent coach – Fiona Kennedy

31 Aug – 9 Oct 2021
https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/

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