diRTy is a surreal semi-autobiographical performance piece devised by trans artist Joey Hateley, exploring the conflicting personas within one mind and societal attitudes towards gender, with integrated sign language from Siobhan Rocks. It played at Bluecoat on 30 November as part of DaDaFest International 2016. Review by Colin Hambrook.
This year’s DaDaFest included a fair few of some of the best cutting edge performance pieces that have been previously seen and reviewed on Disability Arts Online. TransAction Theatre’s dIRTy is no exception, having been reviewed by Mari Elliott after a performance at the Contact Theatre, Manchester in January 2013.
With a DaDaFest theme embracing work that gets under the skin of the contexts, confusions and shifting dynamic that underpins the evolution of disability arts, Joey Hateley’s diRTy was an important contribution. Accessibility has been built into the core foundation of the show, with audio-description on offer and British Sign Language integrated, making the BSL artist Siobhan Rocks a character as essential to the performance as Joey Hateley.
diRTy has been in development over the last eight years alongside Hateley’s transition from female to male and tells a gruelling story of societal and internalised oppression that underpins an individual’s fight for the right to be themselves. The dynamic between Joey and Siobhan adds a lightness of touch and a necessary humour as we’re taken on a roller coaster ride through a range of personas from the satirical to the satanical acted out on stage and on-screen using a fragmented, non-linear narrative, evoking images at times poetic and dream-like and at other times disturbing.
Siobhan’s opinions interrogate the process. So, for example when Joey is attempting to outline Karpman’s drama triangle to explain how the roles of Victim, Rescuer and Persecutor have affected him being a Trans person, she criticises the impenetrable nature of the language of psychology, demanding Joey tell us what he means. Later, when Joey takes us off into a moment of cerebral poetry describing how he feels, Siobhan takes a stance of dogged contrariness, refusing to sign, holding up a note with an arrow saying ‘wanky poetry’.
The effect is to humanise the experiences Joey is describing and to create a sense of accessibility on many different levels. Most people will have a sense of embodying both the female and the male psyche to varying degrees, but few will have had the experience of having to inject testosterone.
The gift that Joey offers is the opportunity to think and to talk about the binary nature of male and female that society presents us with, and to challenge the stereotypical gender norms within ourselves.
There was an effortless passage from performance-mode to post-performance discussion mode, as Joey moved closer to his audience and began warmly engaging people in talking about their own experience of what gender stereotypes have meant in their lives. Some extraordinary conversation followed with audience members sharing stories of being children witnessing fathers secretly dressing as women and children of Trans parents talking about the impact on their lives.
Society’s attitudes have shifted since pioneers of Transitioning like Jan Morris have engaged us in thinking about the issues of what it means to embody gender across the spectrum, but it is still largely a taboo. Gender norms can enforce a deep sense of confusion and inner-turmoil – and attempts to bring any challenge to those norms out into the open risk inviting shame and torment.
diRTy is an important and provocative piece of socially engaged theatre practice that deserves a wider airing. It does what the best theatre does in challenging its audience to think about what it means to be human at a deep level, whilst remaining entertaining.