Opening with a series of videos from individuals reflecting on our current societal placement in Trans discourse, Transpose: The Future immediately sets the tone of its exploration. It is one of hopeful expectations, framed against the cold realities of our current political climate – “I’m still stuck at nobody dies” remarks Lyman Gamberton.
A narrative, recited by Robin Gurney from under a spotlight on a balcony, chronicles a different kind of society, one of oracles dictating futures from a wall of shifting silver, favouring “order over freedom”. The parallels are clear, and establishes one of the main themes for the evening: the repetition of history under different guises, in which Trans individuals have always been present, but consistently erased.
What follows would be best described as a showcase. Transpose is based in varying genres of music with sections of spoken word, and further video reflections structuring the piece throughout. Artists are given the space to portray where they see themselves now, and build on where they wish to be.
CN Lester and Kate O’Donnell have curated an atmosphere celebrating individual expression, with undercurrents of immovable anger that refuse to partake in the trauma-baiting often expected of Trans artists; as if that is the only expression of their journey and identity that is valued within the confines of institutions, such as the one they are currently living in.
It confronts audience expectations with a sarcastic weariness, best demonstrated in Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley’s piece. Initially performing against a backdrop of distorting digital imagery, held by brash electronic beats which transition into an absurdist talk show format, it’s nightmare-esque whilst simultaneously all too familiar. Braithwaite-Shirley forces the host to say what they truly mean, with subtext which seeks out pain to relish in. There is a constant exploration of the specific power dynamics of viewership. An examination of which stories we seek out, and from whom.
Despite this, where the work suffers is in the lack of overarching dramaturgical cohesion. That is not to say that it needs a singular narrative or throughline; given how much the content weighs on personal experience, this could be a hindrance. However, there is largely no continuity in the visual or aural landscapes that each artist inhabits and no attempt to allow these expressions to sit within a shared frame. Moments, such as the opening narrative, could have provided opportunities to do so.
As well as this, the theatrical form of presentation clashes against the piece, which invites a liveliness from the audience that the connotations of the space suppresses. Perhaps better suited to a cabaret-style layout, the intent of the piece seems to be competing with the execution throughout, culminating in a dramatically unsatisfying result.
As individual presentations, there is a wealth of approaches towards the same subject, and the joy of witnessing growing representation almost outweighs the inability of Transpose: The Future to come together as one piece.
Transpose: The Future played at The Pit at the Barbican until December 8. For more information and tickets, click here.