Review: Scenes for Survival - 68 Months In Waiting, National Theatre of Scotland

Nelly Kelly’s short monologue ​68 Months In Waiting​ hit close to home. Although the story of Angus (Afton Moran) and Ulva (Jo Clifford) takes place in a speculative future where trans and non-binary folk are banished to live on a rocky, barren island, ostracised and othered from a cisnormative world, it doesn’t feel far off from our present reality. According to ​Stonewall, two in five trans people have experienced a hate crime, and as recently as 2016 a British trans woman was granted asylum in New Zealand due to the transphobia she faced living in the UK. However, do not mistake the short’s heavy subject matter for bleakness; ultimately the message of ​68 Months In Waiting​ is not one of despair, but one of resilience in the face of persecution. Despite the harsh realities with which Angus and Ulva are faced, their respect for one another and determination to survive bring joy and hope to a world which desperately wants to break them, simply for being who they are.

Directed by Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh, the piece follows Angus, a non-binary person who, like many others, has been forced from their home and their life to live in exile on the island. It begins with them speaking to the camera, almost found footage style, as a fire spreads across the island and a faceless mob sweep through the settlement, intimidating and harassing those they come across. In what may be their last moments, Angus chronicles the history of the island and the semi-mythical Ulva, the first woman exiled to the island.

Ulva, played with gravitas and warmth by Jo Clifford, is something of a folk figure amongst the island dwellers. She is both a source of inspiration and a reminder of how long the struggle for trans folks to live authentically has been happening; trans folks have always been a present, vocal force in the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights, and yet so frequently their voices and stories have been erased. Only in recent years has there finally been a shift towards the discussion of trans rights and gender non-confirming identities in mainstream culture, but trans people have always been there. Ulva is a reminder of this history as a quietly defiant, dignified figure who never loses her grace and elegance despite those who wish to break her.

In the short space of seven minutes, Nelly Kelly guides the audience through Angus’ journey from passivity to activism. It’s empowering and heartwarming to watch Afton Moran’s Angus let go of their fear and embrace forgiveness without sacrificing their dignity, just as Ulva does. In the context of the current state of transgender rights in the UK, the frequent online harassment of trans people, and general fearmongering from anti-trans lobbyists, Nelly Kelly’s voice is a much needed voice of encouragement for those who, like Angus, feel like the world is burning around them. ​68 Months In Waiting​ is intense, thoughtful and empowering, and I look forward to seeing future work from those involved.

68 Months In Waiting ​is streaming on the National Theatre Scotland Website.