It’s wonderful to see a love story that embraces the whole gender scale instead of fitting with the usual binaries that are flung at us throughout society. Elliott meets Robin – there’s an immediate attraction, they get together and spend four years in a relationship. They break up – we’re not told how, or why, it doesn’t really matter. After the breakup, Robin comes out as trans and starts their transition from a man to a woman.
The chemistry between Elena Voce (Elliott) and Elijah W Harris (Robin) is gorgeous – the couple are wonderfully cute and utterly at ease. Voce and Harris absolutely nail the comfort and flirtation that accompanies a long relationship, creating a shorthand between them that feels simultaneously entirely unique and wholly relatable. We believe in Elliott and Robin so intensely that we feel both their anguish when the pairing doesn’t work out.
However, setting Elliott as the audience’s main eyes and ears onstage seems an odd choice considering the themes of the piece, and Robin’s pivotal part in the progression of the narrative. It is so rare to see a trans character onstage, and sadly so unique to hear their voice, that hearing about Robin’s transition from their perspective would have added more than simply being privy to Elliott’s confusion. One can understand why the team chose Elliott as the audience’s eyes – potentially something to do with the majority of the audience probably relating more with Elliott than Robin – but seeing a character transitioning centre stage, or even giving their voice as much weight as was given to Elliott’s, would have balanced the piece out.
And then Dolly Parton herself appears, all bright pink and plastic, glittering jewels. Dolly’s a weird one – she starts off as a way for Elliott to express herself, a function rather than a character, but throughout the piece she gains more and more personality until we feel almost more sympathy towards her than either of the two exes. It’s a fun, bold, brash way to play with the performance stereotype – and I’ll never say no to a good ol’ Dolly singalong. It does, however, mean that there isn’t much of an effort to weave the discussion of a transgender character into the actual scenes themselves; there’s a slight hint of mid-sections declaiming ‘now we’re going to have a chat about transgender issues’.
However, this is nit-picking in an otherwise solid production raising awareness about the difficulties accompanying transition. It’s a nuanced look at how memories and being in love can affect our reception of gendered performance, and is a welcome addition to the VAULT Festival lineup