Review: And The Rest of Me Floats, Bush Theatre

is a beautiful, brave exploration of gender identity and fluidity / burns with the constellations of possibilities shining between the concrete categories of normative society / sensitively, unflinchingly illuminates the pervasive pressure to conform / powerfully challenges restrictive, linear, binary narratives / exposes the fault-lines in our conventional perspectives used to control, contain understanding / challenges us to break down these barriers

invites us to cross these lines

                        to accept our own selves and embrace others’

                                                let go of sameness



            and float

Describing itself as a “form-busting play” about “the messiness of gender”, And The Rest of Me Floats is a heart-warming, deeply personal chronicle of seven queer people boldly expressing their identities in the face of alienation within a heteronormative society. Rapidly intersecting experiences from across the lives of the various performers, from the irrepressible, gender-fluid Josh-Susan Enright to the superb, “cis but sissy” Barry Fitzgerald, the play perceptively captures the tensions and interruptions of their lived experiences within a world that is constantly trying to define them. This emphasises both that identity is not something that can be neatly mapped and also that gaining acceptance for even the simplest attempt at self-determination requires a struggle, as demonstrated in the frequent moments when multiple performers speak simultaneously at cross purposes. Yet the production’s true power comes not just from its fearless discussion of gender identity, but from the celebration of seven unique personalities which rise to fill the theatre.

The oppressive weight of heteronormativity, voyeuristic curiosity and open bigotry which constantly seeks (consciously or not) to reduce these personalities into two-dimensional otherness, is excellently evoked by a square of microphones enclosing the stage. These are used to ensnare whoever is sharing their individual stories in crossfire of intrusive and offensive questions – “Have you tried mindfulness?”, “Do you need to make it so political?” – effectively highlighting the careless anonymity granted to those who conform. Moreover, by aligning themselves with the audience as observers of these most intimate narratives, director Ben Buratta subtly dramatises the internalised assumption that such a queer space will be presented before an enveloping heteronormative viewpoint.

Another key element of the production is its interrogation of gender as performative. Rūta Irbīte’s inclusion of clothes racks on stage (which contain the cast’s own clothing) wonderfully reveals how clothes can provide a powerful means of expression, but also emphasises that identity is not dependent on any superficial costume. Indeed, throughout the play there is an intense scrutiny on not only physical appearance itself, but on how we view it. The opening scene, in which the seven actors arrange themselves silently onstage, almost challenges the audience to try and read each individual’s gender from their body language. As the performance progresses, including a particularly courageous scene in which the seven performers reveal their bodies to the spotlight of the audience’s gaze, we begin to understand that the impact of our own perspectives are being examined and questioned.

And The Rest of Me Floats is a buoyant exploration of queer identity, of triumphant movement and fluidity, and perhaps its greatest accomplishments is its ability to melt the entrenched barriers between new possibility and old convention, between performer and audience. This is a play that cannot help but change the way we look at ourselves and others and our understanding of that view, as Emily Joh Miller eloquently remarks: “I often feel very watched. But right now I feel really seen. So thanks, for seeing me.”

And The Rest of Me Floats is playing Bush Theatre until 16 March 2019. For more information and tickets, see the Bush Theatre website.