The Magic Flute is an emotional opera about romance, passion, and deceit. The Magic Flute or the stories they tell is much more about the latter. Set primarily (but not exclusively) on a beige chaise lounge, The Magic Flute or the stories they tell opens the doors to previously untold stories, and the search for non-binary inclusivity on stage. As part of Contact season staged at Above the Stag Theatre, Edwina Strobl was given two weeks to prepare a meaningful piece exploring the LGBTQIA+ experience. The result is a funny, emotional, and trailblazing piece about the search for gender identity that contemplates the question of who you are to yourself.
What makes me, me – if my gender doesn’t. Or does it? Mais Robinson and Freddie Love go on a multifaceted journey in their sixty-minute-long devised performance as they try to find answers. Exploring the relationship between theatre and opera, and binary and non-binary, they tap into the themes of stereotyping, gender-euphoria (not dysphoria!), and the world of binary cartoon characters.
Min (Robinson) plays the flute in an orchestra. Their showcase is coming up and they have been practising for weeks in preparation for the big day. The Queen of the Night’s theme tune has been blaring non-stop out of their room and if it wasn’t for Papagena (Love), the bird catcher, who keeps distracting them, they could actually put their heart and soul into it.
Gender-dysphoric quiz shows, run by a colourful parrot, take over Min’s dreams as they are asked to decide between the role of hero or heroine in their own (subconscious-) adventure. And then there is also their unaccepting mother who FaceTimes in every now and then only to use Min’s dead name and brush off the importance of gender identity. But amidst the pre-show jitters, Min’s best friend Patty (Love) delivers a refreshingly careless outlook on the situation. As a sequin-trousers wearing partner in crime (and identity crises), Patty makes sure that Min does not entirely slip into the abyss of trying to figure out who they are and how they want other people to see them.
The Magic Flute or the stories they tell manages to combine opera, theatre, cabaret, soliloquies, pub night, quiz shows and anything else you can think of. Imagine a buffet of theatre styles that is held together by the idea of gender identity and the struggle of what it means to identify as non-binary. Solely performed by non-binary actors, it is a powerful piece that gives me goosebumps – and not only once. However, the patchwork rollercoaster of emotion does not hide the fact that the show was put together within two weeks. One minute we find ourselves laughing hysterically about “third gender-reveal party presents”, the next we are trying to sympathise and understand the struggles of genderqueerness in a self-indulgently long monologue. The comedy is too funny for the drama to be that truthful, personal, and full of pain – it needs to meet in the middle.
If The Magic Flute or the stories they tell were to give us more of an opportunity to grow with the characters in their self-discovery process, it can serve as a beautiful example of where the non-binary fit in the narrative.
The Magic Flute or the stories they tell is playing at the Above The Stag Theatre until 4 July 2021. For more information and tickets visit Above The Stag Theatre online.