Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington

20/02/2017 - 22/02/2017

NZ Fringe Festival 2017 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details

Gender Spanner is a joyous and empowering hour of cabaret, burlesque and labels that just don’t stick.

Armed with a ukulele, spinning plates and more costumes than you can fit in your closet, Jessica McKerlie presents a smorgasbord of original music and poetry with a common thread: Are you a man? Are you a woman? Are you sure?

Inspired by Jessica’s own explorations and understanding of gender fluidity, Gender Spanner is a cabaret that goes to the very core of what it is to be human.

★★★★☆ “Confronting, sad, hilarious, affecting, but always entertaining” – Upside News

★★★★ “An emblem of self-determination.” – The Scotsman

★★★★ “A queer must see!” – Queer Av

★★★★ “Bursting with ideas and passion.” – Australian Stage Gender

Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee St, Te Aro, Wellington
20-22 Feb 2017
TICKETS: $20/$15

Theatre , Solo , Performance Poetry , Musical ,

EVERYONE is the target audience

Review by John Smythe 21st Feb 2017

As we enter the Gryphon auditorium Jessica McKerlie greets each of us, asks us a question then slaps a Post-It label on us. I get ‘Homo’ and feel compelled to tell the stranger next to me I’ll own up to “homo sapiens”. Many feel inaccurately labelled. At the end of the hour McKerlie reminds us we were labelled the day we were born and have continued to be so ever since – including by ourselves (cf: Who?).

The promo flyer asks: “Are you a man? Are you a woman? Are you sure?” Thus McKerlie sets the stage for an exploration, confrontation and celebration of gender-fluidity. The official entrance sees her present as ‘she’ in a lovely, somewhat flouncy pink number which she obviously loves because she’s hugging herself and dancing in a rather slinky manner, or is it a bit try-hard …?

Oh. Rethink. It’s a strait-jacket. A straight-jacket? And McKerlie has Houdini skills: no need for a rescuer here. Nor for the multiple frocks and aprons beneath. One strapless sheath survives but it slips down and slides up when she dances with gay abandon so she has to curtail her sense of freedom … (Use of the ‘she’ pronoun intentional at this point.)

Gender Spanner abounds with visual metaphors and commentary. And it’s full of surprises. As McKerlie shares the journey from uni-student co-habiting with a bloke in a stuck routine through various ‘light-bulb’ moments, any inner compulsion to categorise her/ him/ them is constantly subverted in creatively entertaining ways.

Having noted all publicity material, websites and FB pages avoid pronouns altogether, I’ll go with ‘they/them’ from now on as ‘she’ becomes inadequate. Physically female, objectively, they are not to be defined by gender, job or sexual preference. Fluid. A spanner of genders – and joyously so, refusing to be categorised.

Shadow play, spinning plates, puppetry, poetry, strip-tease and ukulele-accompanied original songs are variously employed to share the experience of being gender-fluid. A full spectrum of human emotions that anyone can related to is explored, and because it reveals undeniable truths it is both moving and funny.

Gender Spanner is just as likely to confront – or at least discombobulate – the value systems of any hard-line identifier on the LGBQI spectrum as your stock standard cis-gendered ‘straight’. Need I add it’s non-threatening? It’s fully inclusive of everyone including those like me, whose heterosexual, white, middle-class, middle-aged, perceived-as-privileged position in life often counts against us, as if we had any choice in the matter. We all get the chance to reclaim ourselves.

McKerlie enjoins us to claim back the language and the labels we’ve been stuck with, and re-frames and re-phrases the famous line from Notting Hill – “I’m also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her” – (which may in turn have paraphrased a Janis Joplin quote) by way, I surmise, of proving we all share more similarities than differences.

With great humour, skill and alacrity, McKerlie delivers a fully committed show I recommend you see. EVERYONE is the target audience.


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council