XY[author-post-rating] (2/5 stars)

I was left more than a little cold by today’s line-up at Papercut Theatre’s rotating showcase of short plays, XY. The project is an infinitely intriguing one to say the least: a very specific brief was issued to 16 playwrights, commissioning them to script short works that don’t specify genders for any character. It’s an exercise I assume aims to play with assumptions and generalisations about men and women, to liberate and refresh character-writing, to occupy a place of neutrality. Imagine that – a series of new works by up-and-coming writers that could break down stereotypes or even pass the Bechdel Test with flying colours, because in case you didn’t know, we’re in dire need of such work at the Fringe..

Yet, having seen the actual outcomes, I can’t quite see what, if any, bearing the brief actually had on their content. The opening piece about a pair of super-safety-conscious siblings is harmless enough – rather too harmless in fact, because it’s pretty much unmemorable. The worst offender in terms of gender bias is probably the inexplicable sci-fi body-swap which comprises mostly of what might be the most uninformed, cliche-clogged conversation about sexism ever… plus there’s definitely some slavishly specific and quite lazy gendering of the characters. Maybe that’s down to very particular directorial choices that don’t reflect the text faithfully, but in terms of XY‘s ambitions, it still counts as failure.

Perhaps I’m being overzealous with the extent of my affront here, but that frustration comes out of a very real feeling of disappointment with an involving idea that falls so short of expectation. To pitch these productions as radical and innovative when they’re quite clearly neither, seems rather unfair. Dreams of genre-defining gender deconstruction aside, I expected, at the very least, a series of self-contained stories served well by the constraints of the form, but the quality of the writing itself is wildly uneven across the board. Only Sara Pascoe’s The Endings Part Two – a brief glance into the manic fantasy world of three possibly neglected children who role-play pregnancies (and then miscarriages) – shows a hint of stylistic flair. For the most part, though, the plays are predictable, stilted and pretty much underwhelming works.  I certainly can’t speak for every one of the 16 plays that are on rotation as part of XY, but the selection I encountered didn’t exactly fill me with hope.

XY is playing at the Pleasance Courtyard  as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 25 August. For more information and tickets, please see the Edinburgh Fringe Website.