The return of theatre marks a wonderful opportunity to use the arts as a medium for change – more so than ever. We are collectively facing difficulties from the pandemic, but we must not forget the people who were struggling to live, quite simply as themselves, long before (and will continue to struggle after) the beast of COVID-19.
With its reopening, the Bush Theatre brings us the premier of Overflow, a new play by acclaimed trans writer Travis Alabanza. Rosie, a trans woman, is trapped inside a bathroom cubicle by the fear of the harassment awaiting her from a group outside the door. Reluctant to call for help, Rosie (played by Reece Lyons) passes time by taking us on a journey through significant moments in her life taking place in bathrooms – moments of heroism and joy, but also of fear and exclusivity.
There is an immediacy to Lyons wonderfully chaotic performance, instantly asserting herself as a comedic presence, akin with the audience, and a model of unvarnished truths. Always delivered with a sharp tongue, her vocality is varied and paints the scene with vivid colours and characters. At times I do find her performance unrefined in some of the stagecraft fundamentals – most notably with her awareness – but she more than makes up for it with clarity of intention and a complete control of the pace of the scene.
Alabanza’s text creates a natural evolution from witty off-hand remarks, to a riptide of social and emotional distress. Addressing the cultural progression that has taken place, whilst forcing us to face the lack of real, deep acceptance within communities – the cis friend who says she accepts you, but does little to champion your cause, or to change the ignorant minds of those around her that she also calls friends.
Debbie Hannan’s direction creates a fantastic energy, with scenes segmented around the limited space allowing for a clear narrative from start to end. Thoroughly earned pauses allow the weight of the words to really sink in. Anarchy erupts in the climax of the play, as Rosie’s internalised frustrations erupt through the destruction of her external settings. There is a distinct feeling of discomfort in the audience, spurred on by the uncontrolled nature of the performance (very deliberate of course, but a hark back to my earlier feelings on Lyons lack of awareness). There is, however, a sense of vicarious excitement in watching her acting in this way. Doing the things we have all imagined doing, but never felt free enough to actually do.
Overflow is a visceral exploration of what it feels like to fight for your space in the world only find yourself a spectacle in that space and othered. Through their comic attitude, Alabanza’s words settle easily on your skin before digging in deep and making you question your role in the acceptance of change. Not just being okay with it in yourself but making it okay too. It is undeniable – the trans rights movement is more charged than it has ever been. Whilst Overflow reminds us that there is still a fair way to go and we must not be complacent, it is clear that history is being created and there is only one path – onward.
Overflow is playing at the Bush Theatre until 16th January 2021. For more information and to book tickets, visit The Bush Theatre’s website.