Battersea Arts Centre plays host to La JohnJoseph’s autobiographical show Boy In A Dress. It begins with an anecdote about JohnJoseph being mistaken for a girl in Woolworths. The complexities surrounding gender identity are one of the main themes within the play, as JohnJoseph identifies as third-gendered. With a series of monologues and songs JohnJoseph recounts his dysfunctional upbringing on a council estate, his sexual exploits in public toilets as a teenager and his struggle to ‘make it’ as a performer in New York. Delivered in a frank and candid manner, the piece is littered with black humour from start to finish.
In many ways Boy In A Dress feels like a one man show, but it is an actually a three-hander; alongside JohnJoseph there is Ed Jaspers on piano and Erin Siobhan Hutching who plays a manifestation of JohnJoseph’s female self. Although the premise behind Hutchings character is an interesting one, as it provides a visual representation of JohnJoseph’s dual identity, Hutching’s part didn’t feel entirely necessary.
Myriddin Wannell’s set design of a cluttered stage with a large oak wardrobe in a centre of the space works well. The wardrobe is climbed on and is used as entrance so that characters can literally ‘come out of the closet’. I particularly liked when the wardrobe was scrawled on with chalk to transport the audience back to JohnJoseph’s school classroom. In the following scene, once the chalk was wiped away, a UV Light was shone on on the doors of the wardrobe to create the illusion of a public toilet that had been defaced with graffiti. JohnJoseph flits between tales of childhood to more recent escapades in New York and then darts back to adolescent struggles –consequently the show does not conform any chronological order. Wannell’s various transformations of the wardrobe provide backdrops which help to clarify at what stage of JohnJoseph’s life the anecdotes are taking place.
As a whole, the piece provokes some interesting debates surrounding society’s need for people to conform to gender norms. There is no doubt that JohnJoseph has lead an interesting life however, I think the content is let down by the piece’s weak structure, and towards the end some of the songs and anecdotes start to feel a bit predictable. In many ways Boy In A Dress feels like a meander down memory lane with no clear path or destination.
Boy In A Dress is playing at Battersea Arts Centre until the 16 of March before continuing on tour. For more information and tickets please visit Battersea Arts Centre’s website.