Travesty, New Diorama Theatre - Review

© Claire Haigh

In  Italian 'travesti' doesn't mean something akin to a calamity. Instead, it is a practice of women playing 'men's' parts in plays and vice versa. Following a critically successful stint in Edinburgh, Fight In The Dog Theatre have brought their play Travesty to the New Diorama Theatre for a five-day run. Directed by Emily Burns and written by Liam Williams, Travesty revolves around a couple in their 20s – from the early days of their relationship to its death knell. "So far, so fairly conventional," you might be thinking. Except the part of Anna is played by Lydia Larsen  and the part of Ben is played by Pierro Niel-Mee.

What is the point of doing this you might ask? It's common knowledge that much of what a person "says" to another is through non-verbal communication and while it is a sweeping statement, men and women have their moments where they behave differently. Niel-Mee's Anna is more tactile and emotionally demonstrative. Ben on the other hand to begin with has, metaphorically speaking, one foot out of the door.

Of course there are many other factors for these 'differences' which are explored in the play, such as class and profession. Ben's a teacher in his late-20s – originally from Wolverhampton, Anna works in PR and is from 'the South'. 'He' is also the archetypal 'Angry Young Man', disillusioned by society's 'selfishness', his career and  the equation of consumerism with 'love'. 'She' on the other hand doesn't ruminate on the bigger picture and is sanguine in nature.

Beyond the physical, there seems little to keep them together, but as the play progresses, the 'sway of power' changes as Ben realises he's fallen for Anna's optimism and unconditional love, forcing him to reappraise what he's willing to 'settle' for in relationship, career and life... if he ever does...

The play's strength lies in the audience recognising themselves in aspects of the couple's relationship, though I dare say they will identify themselves with both. As for the actors, they totally inhabit Anna and Ben, to the point that one forgets at times who they 'should' be playing.

As an afterthought, it would be interesting if an audience with no knowledge about Travesty at all, watched the play without references to names, so the lines of gender really are obscured. As it is, the play does a good job of blurring the lines of identity and while some patterns of behaviour are more commonplace between the respective sexes, ultimately there is no rule book regarding 'female' or 'male' behaviour in relationships.

© Michael Davis 2016

Travesty runs at New Diorama Theatre until 10th September 2016 (8.30pm).


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