Trans identity seems to be very much in the public eye at the moment, but a lot of the stories in mainstream media seem to be focused on the stories of trans women. The role of the trans man, whether it’s less glamorous or perhaps more hidden, is one that seems to have been somewhat downplayed. But Rhum and Clay in collaboration with Kit Redstone’s British Council Showcase play Testosterone is less a play about trans identity and more a play about what it is to be a man, seen uniquely though the eyes of someone who has been watching, and wondering, how to be a man most of his life.
A year after beginning testosterone injections, trans man Kit Redstone heads into a men’s changing room of a boxing gym. This is primarily where the play is set, using the aspects of the all-male environment to challenge the idea of what it is to be a man. Drawing on autobiographical elements of Redstone’s life, both before transitioning and after, it the play looks at aspects sometimes associated with masculinity, from bravado, power and aggression, through to lack of vulnerability and crying – unless associated with sport.
From the write-up, I expected this play to be somewhat dense and intense, given the subject matter, but Testosterone is unexpectedly much more humorous than I expected – an irreverence which lightens a heavy topic, but also gives more warmth to some of the more heartfelt moments. The physical theatre elements are often exaggerated to add to the comedic effect, but also to help show that a lot of what is happening on the stage is a product of the character’s daydream-like imagination. The use of music, from songs from The Jungle Book through to It’s Raining Men are as unusual as the sound and yet work superbly well.
Testosterone is a play which provides more questions that it answers, ultimately landing on a very big question about identity. For a play that runs just over a hour and with four actors who remain on stage for most of the play, it manages to pack in a lot. Whilst the play focuses masculine identity seen through the eyes of a trans man, the questions are universal: do we get to choose who we are, how much are we influenced by those around us, what impact is there from societal expectations.
Testosterone is refreshingly honest; disinterested in being pious, it’s a play with genuinely funny, sad and heartfelt moments that reminds the audience that whilst a play might take place on stage, it can also be a mirror, reflecting back the questions it poses back onto the audience. An incredibly clever and entertaining play, and well worth seeing.
Testosterone is currently on tour, having played in London, at the Edinburgh Fringe and in Kazakhstan. For more information, visit Rhum and Clay theatre company’s website.