S/he/it Happens is a clown show about a gender-neutral performer’s discomfort with their own body. It’s a genius idea, helped along by the fact that Miranda Porter is a natural mime. You may have doubts as to whether Porter’s eyebrow-raising attempts to bind their breasts (sellotape, a folding chair and an iron are all involved) could supply enough material for an hour’s performance, yet Porter does a lot with very little. The piece, which impressively is Porter’s first solo clown show, is playing as part of the Wandsworth Arts Fringe and Brighton Fringe. It’s an excellent find for those who already love clown shows and anyone looking for an introduction to this often overlooked art form.
Porter enters dressed as an officious office drone circa 1930, bustling to their desk in oversized glasses and jacket. We could be in for a relatively run-of-the-mill mime performance about the absurdities of modern office work, but Porter has a secret. Hidden behind their “office rules” is a poster of a Calvin Klein model, displaying an impressive six-pack and the instruction that the underwear is “for when you mean business”. Porter’s character would like nothing more than to look like this male model. They’re wearing the pants and soon all their other clothes are neatly hung on pegs, but something still isn’t quite right. Porter gazes disconsolately down at their chest, and spends the rest of the show playing with their desire to guillotine their breasts off.
The full frontal nudity may come as a shock, but Porter’s bare breasts are never presented as erotic. It’s impossible not to share in their frustration at this unwanted appendage to their body. Transgender issues are not the most obvious subject for slapstick comedy, but it proves to be both a great set-up for a mime performance and an unexpectedly effective way to explore the physical discomfort of not identifying with the sex you were assigned at birth.
The range of breast-related material is impressive in itself. A particular highlight is a surreal five minute digression into what is best described as “boob puppetry”, in which Porter draws eyes on their cleavage and turns them into fish, ferrets and small woodland creatures. Porter has bags of charisma, and their repertoire of raised eyebrows, grins and gleeful guillotine sound effects provides excellent entertainment.
The audience at the performance I attended (who I suspect had been enjoying the facilities of the pub downstairs beforehand) seemed to treat much of the show as body horror a la Saw or Hostel. There were audible shrieks when Porter looked set to iron their chest flat and when they made an impromptu binder out of sellotape. This seems some way off what Porter was intending, and they seemed palpably bemused at the audience reaction once the performance had ended. Yet no one was anything less than engaged.
Ending on an ambiguous note, Porter finally answers the phone with their own voice instead of dropping several octaves to approximate a more masculine greeting as they had been doing throughout the show. It seems unlikely that this signals an end to their struggle against the gender binary, but perhaps this highlights that throughout the show they were never really at peace. Porter is not a sad clown, but their slapstick struggle demands empathy, and hopefully brings us a little closer to understanding the gender neutral experience.
S/he/it Happens is playing at the Cat’s Back, Wandsworth on 20 May, and at Junkyard Dogs, Brighton on 7 May and 25 May. For more information and tickets, see www.wandsworthfringe.com or www.brightonfringe.org.
Photo: Alice Leclerc