Anna and Ben are like any normal couple, with Travesty showing us snippets of their relationship by letting us peer into the intimacy of Anna’s bedroom. Nothing particularly interesting happens – it’s just like any other standard relationship. The twist with this production comes with the casting, with Anna being played by a man (Pierro Niel-Mee) and Ben being played by a woman (Lydia Larsen).
With their performances, Niel-Mee and Larsen take on characters of opposing genders, but rather than portraying them with male/female clichés, there has been clear study and observation allowing them to suitably fit their respective “moulds”. Niel-Mee is excitable, light on his feet and graceful with his gesture. Larsen is much more grounded. Even when lying in bed, Niel-Mee is cuddled up trying to get some sleep whilst Larsen lays carelessly with a laptop screen shining. This isn’t to say that these actors aren’t stereotyping, just that they are managing to do so in a way that is still believable. It’s not over the top.
From then on, we see a relationship grow and develop, eventually being exposed to the challenges of compromise. At what point does someone stop trying to find exactly what they want and just settle for what they’ve got?
The main issue with this production is that once we’ve got the twist in the casting, we’re completely reliant on the rest of the story to keep us engaged. It sort of does, but I get the feeling it’s most effective if you’d been in enough long term relationships to make the comparisons; to have experienced a time where your partner tells you they love you and you’re not ready to respond. Not because you don’t love them too, but because you don’t want to get it wrong.
This is when the gender-swap experiment can really test itself. Can you see yourself in one, either or both of these characters? If not, if it’s totally impossible to relate to, then you’re just watching two people having a fairly standard relationship, which we have all seen countless times before.
So what draws us in to the rest of the performance? It is the sincerity of the acting, truth in the text and honest human nature in the expressions. I would recommend this to those who have a better understanding of relationships than my youthful self, and would be fascinated in hearing their thoughts.
Travesty is playing Assembly George Square Studios until 28 August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.
Photo: Claire Haigh