“You do not fit inside your body. It is yours but you have outgrown its shape. If only your skin could grow as you grow, change as you change, stretch to fit you. If only you could become something more beautiful and not just something else.”
This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending playwright Charlie O’Grady’s latest production Kaleidoscope. In its second run, as a part of the Sydney Mardi Gras Festival, Kaleidoscope follows young trans man Gabriel (played in this production by the effervescent Oliver Ayres) as he attempts to get ready one morning.
Confronted with his own reflection, that becomes a lot harder than anticipated.
This play is a unique piece of art, something new and different in the Sydney theatre world, and perhaps theatre more broadly – it is a play that subverts the trope of the “tragic queers”, the queer people who are punished for their queerness through perpetual sadness and in many cases death on stage and screen. This play is reflective of a story that is often not heard in theatre, not just a gay man’s voice, but a trans gay man. His experiences are new on the stage space, but not necessarily new for the audience, or the people it represents.
The play itself is brilliantly staged, with the stage space situated between two sides of the audience. It is a small production, but a strikingly intimate one, and necessarily so. This is a play that feeds off reaction, feeds off emotion. More than once I found my eyes move to the members of the audience opposite me – lit almost as well as Oliver Ayres, who well and truly held his own on stage – whose own emotional responses only added to my own and vice versa. Caught in between both sides, Oliver Ayres’ Gabe stood, both looking at and through us, as Gabe does his own reflection. It was powerfully done, and Ayres’ performance was immensely real and true and striking.
But this play is more than just reflective (mirror pun not intended). It is funny and witty and brilliantly real. You don’t have to be trans to identify with Gabe, and that is the magic of Kaleidoscope. You smile at his small triumphs, laugh with his jokes and his delightful witticisms and truths. It makes you feel empathy for a character who may not necessarily look, sound or talk like you. You feel what he feels, you see your own struggles, and you see his. And then you look outward to see everyone else’s experiences. It reminds you that Gabe is more than a character, he is a person, and he is real.
As stressed by the writer of the show, Charlie O’Grady, in the show’s introduction, Kaleidoscope is not autobiographical nor does it seek to represent all trans experiences, because it couldn’t, nor should it. Such experiences are highly personalised and unique to every individual. For the audience who I sat with, it was an important reminder for those of us who were not necessarily familiar with these types of experiences. For many in that same audience, it was an acknowledgement that their own stories are important and different and valued, as much as everyone else’s.
That is invaluable, and it is important to remember.
Kaleidoscope represents something new and unique and otherwise under-represented, if represented at all, in theatre – Queer Theatre that is firmly and respectfully engaged with personal experiences, with the day to day life of a young trans person. Kaleidoscope teaches you something. It teaches you that queer people are more than background set pieces in your cis-centred drama. It teaches you to listen to people with different stories than your own.
And if ever a play needed listening to, it is this one.
So do yourself and everyone around you a favour and buy tickets to go see Kaleidoscope, before the show finishes on March 6th.
© Hayley New 2016
A big thank you to the writer of Kaleidoscope Charlie O’Grady, actor Oliver Ayres, and the entire production team for being so welcoming, friendly, and just generally awesome before, during and after the show. You guys are doing something amazing with this production, and I can’t wait to see it in its future runs.