Gender fluidity, is a popular subject for theatre at the moment, which has always been at the forefront of changing attitudes and beliefs. The Poetry We Make developed by Jaswinder Blackwell-Pal and Edwina Strobl at The VAULT Festival, which itself has introduced gender neutral toilets this year, looks at the subject from a position of love, and finding one’s true identity.
We follow the break-up of a relationship, as Elliot (Elena Voce) interrogates her own memories of boyfriend Robin (Elijah W Harris), who has now begun the transition to become a woman. Her idol, and spirit-guide, Dolly Parton helps her through this journey, as she dips in to various moments in time.
The structure of the play takes a little getting used to, as we jump around the timeline it’s not always entirely clear where we are in the relationship, but always the message is loud and clear, underneath the make-up, or the vision we present to others, it’s about finding who you are.
Dolly Parton (Mia Hall) doesn’t just dish out the advice, often breaking in to some of Dolly’s greatest hits, her vocals are only overshadowed by her rhinestone clad, pink outfit. She is generally accompanied by Sam Thorpe-Spinks on guitar, who also plays mutual friend Paul.
The relationship between Elliot and Robin is difficult to get to grips with, it feels like a relationship doomed to fail, as Robin is so submissive to Elliot’s overbearing personality. Even before the gender transition is revealed, it’s hard to see how they could ever have worked as a couple. Elliot’s unwillingness to accept the situation, and constant need to make things about herself makes a good point, but ultimately becomes a little grating.
The combination of music and story-telling in The Poetry We Make works well, however, the characters could be better explored to ensure that the audience always truly sees the motivation behind the actions.