Writer: La John Joseph
Director: Sarah Chew
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
Boy In A Dress is the autobiography of “third-gendered, fallen Catholic, ex-fashion model, La JohnJoseph” says the programme. But that description doesn’t go halfway to describing the complexity of this gloriously told tale of a boy from Bootle who winds up in sparkly four-inch heels, strutting the stage in the strip clubs of New York.
From the start, JohnJoseph didn’t really fit in. Left to fend for himself and his numerous siblings on a Liverpool council estate, the poor kid on a scholarship at a good Catholic school, clever, put upon, not feeling much like a boy, or a girl. But who needs to fit in? Running away to help run a hotel in New York, La JohnJoseph found his place in the world, in the dive bars and strip clubs, in dangerous neighbourhoods and on subway trains, he fell in love with the city that asks no questions and accepts you as you are, until, that is, his visa ran out.
In many ways it’s an old story – a young man’s personal journey, fraught with bad beginnings and on-going adversity, but La JohnJoseph has created a glorious theatrical confession, an intimate testimony to the alternative life and a love letter to two great cities – the one he was born in and the one he adopted as his own. La JohnJoseph’s sharp text, and mournful songs tell a compelling tale and the stunning visuals create a fantasy, fairytale world where the beautiful “leaks into” even the most sombre moments.
Despite being part of Flying Solo 2013, Contact’s now well-established International Festival of Solo Performance, Boy In A Dress is a three hander. But it can be forgiven for breaking the rules. Ed Jaspers provides a musical soundtrack that, at times, almost gives the show full-blown musical status, and a fantastic performance from Erin Siobhan Hutching (as both La JohnJoseph and the Virgin Mary) adds humour and a whole other layer of visual and theatrical complexity. All of this is played out on a beautiful, visually quirky and devilishly tricksy set designed by Myriddin Wannell. Wannell has also created a paper dress for La JohnJoseph which could almost have stolen the show, had the wearer not been so captivating inside it.
Director Sarah Chew has to be given credit not only for her intelligent and imaginative staging, but for the sheer ambition of the piece. Despite it’s hour and twenty minute running time, studio space location, and ‘alternative theatre’ tag, this is in fact an impressive and elaborate piece of really well-crafted performance, which deserves to be much more widely seen. With every seat in Contact’s limited Space Two taken on the first night and only one more performance to go, this is a pretty hot ticket. Highly recommended.