CN Lester is the creator of the celebration and presentation of queer and trans performers that is Transpose. The evening takes place in The Pit of the Barbican, a sizeable black box studio, and once the lights go down, CN Lester greets us. Whilst singing and playing the piano, they tell us their personal story of how they became, and the struggles that come with being comfortable with themselves, which sets the precedent for the rest of the show.
Witty, tongue-in-cheek humour runs throughout, laughing at the absurdity of the whole idea that trans, queer and disabled people are to be tolerated rather than understood as people just as anyone else would expect to be. This is discussed in Jamie Hale’s series of poems, and upon entering, they are wearing a t-shirt which reads “PISS ON PITY”, which succinctly sums up their attitude towards how disabled people are viewed by able-bodied society. Through Hale’s no holds barred language, they shed a light on the issues disabled people face, challenging the squeamishness people may feel around subjects such as sexual desire and victim blaming.
Each performer opens up their vulnerability to the audience through their art, such as classical singer Alexandra Bork (accompanied by Nicholas Bonadies), showing us that there is so much more to a person than what we see on the surface, their bewitching voices filling the entire space through no help from a microphone. Bork’s moments are absolutely breath taking, their range and skill effortlessly interacting with Bonadies’ piano playing.
Travis Alabanza’s spoken word poems are truly a climax to the evening, exploring the ability and necessity of self-love despite the opposition that they are faced with that, something that is unfortunately very much present today. Overlapping with a voice recording, the frenetic thoughts that Alabanza experiences just by preparing to leave their house is a stark reminder for a lot of people who take for granted the fact that they are cisgender/straight.
Directed by Kate O’ Donnell, the performers’ talents shine, with just a grand piano, projection screen behind them and a disco ball overhead, and lighting designer Lucy Hanson subtly complimenting each presentation through projection and change in colours and focus.
Transpose: Barbican tells the audience what it actually means to be trans, challenging what has been told to us in the past, encouraging us to understand, to appreciate and to hope for a better, more inclusive future.
Transpose: Barbican played at The Barbican from December 8 to 9 2017
Photo: AbsolutQueer Photography