Bullish uses the story of Asterion, the Minotaur of Greek mythology, to examine the “sticky and joyous complexities of gender identity, and in particular the fluid negotiation of gender transition”. The way they’ve put this strikes true with me. When the play deals with the awkward, painful reality of having to explain yourself to your GP with the line “I am softly humiliated”, they had me. The cast have a good energy and rapport: Amelia Stubberfield in particular is an excellent comic actor, and Cairo Nevitt also stood out to me. I want to keep seeing theatre made by non-cisgender actors, especially, but not exclusively, when it comes to work about gender.
Milk Presents however, desperately need to have a long hard look at the message they’re sending by having the four main actors who played the Minotaur in turn, all be assigned female at birth (AFAB) transgender or non-binary people. A piece about gender and monstrosity without, for instance, any trans women, has little to no relevance in the context of LGBTQ history. Trans and gender-nonconforming people, who are assigned male at birth, are those of our community in the most danger and often the most visible, demonised and vilified. Yet there is no place for them in Bullish’s exploration of coming to terms with one’s own gender. Because of this, the casting of Adam Robertson, the co-founder of Milk Presents, (and a cisgender man, as the crew confirmed) as Theseus makes the hero a fairly standard figure of perfect masculinity that is only the taunting ideal aimed at by some.The later inclusion of Theseus into the Minotaurs’ fold (after a final showdown is avoided due to compassion) feels both rushed and rote.
Reading this, it might well seem as if I’m bringing identity into a critique of art in a way which is unfair and irrelevant, but we have to understand that identity is already there. It always has been, even in art which is less direct about its stake in identity than Bullish. I fear that by this point, painting on glitter beards might seem an interesting and cool tactic to talk about gender only to those in the audience unused to LGBTQ events and for whom this play might be a good introduction to transgender issues. For me (an AFAB trans person) there was very little that was new or incisive. Furthermore, having to watch performer Lucy Jane Parkinson declare something Theseus had said as “problematic” for laughs while being a white person with dreadlocks was like watching one of the most spiteful parodies of ‘politically conscious’ work. It unknowingly alienates BME people while remaining secure in a feeling of being beyond reproach: talking the talk and being entirely unaware that there’s any walking to be done. This coupled with the casting, even though both are likely unintentional, are choices antithetical to telling important LGBTQ stories.
It is a good thing that Bullish inspired the Come As You Are festival that is taking place at the Camden People’s and comprises entirely of trans, non-binary and genderqueer theatre. But perhaps it shouldn’t be headlining.
Bullish played at the Camden People’s Theatre until September 30
Photo: Tristram Kenton