On its latest stop on a tour covering different corners of the UK, and as part of the Homotopia Season at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool, the unrelenting and entertaining brainchild of performer and writer Kate O’Donnell took to the stage.
You’ve Changed was the insight into the world of O’Donnell, and her roller coaster journey and ups and downs of transitioning from male to female.
The topic of transgender has had many stigmas attached to it in the past, and through the use of a 1930’s backdrop style and sophistication, Kate brought just that to everything she did as she took the audience on a voyage through her life until now, with the interludes of inspiration drawn from the music of Fred and Ginger routines scattered throughout.
Whilst the setting and costume evoked that 1930’s period, it also reflected the same struggles that members of the transgender community faced during the early 2000’s, the time in which Kate made her transition. Like the 1930’s, such a subject in the early 2000’s was still very much taboo.
Instantly engaging and welcoming from the outset, Kate showed a natural gift at being able to make an audience feel involved. The jazzy and stylish genre from which she depicted her performance meant that the comedy and entertainment she brought to the stage was also coupled with a quiet confidence and reassurance.
Not even a slight wardrobe function on the night could break the almost effortless charisma and charm, nor did it break the attention of the audience, such was the extent of how engaging the evening was.
Whilst many might tackle the stigmas around transgender life with great caution, or on the polar opposite side with outright forcefulness, Kate’s demeanour made neither of those approaches necessary.
Whether it was discussing her decision to transition into becoming female with her cousin on a 15-mile walk down the Pennine Way, or consulting her decision with a private GP in London, she struck a perfect balance in how to deliver her experiences to the audience in a way that was both incredibly humorous and entertaining but also captured the impact of the importance of the issues and challenges that can be faced as a transgender person.
What added to the entertainment value was the sheer confidence and openness O’Donnell had for talking about the subjects of speech therapy, the taking of female hormones and… of course… the physical operations.
The stand out moment in which she confidently swept aside all apprehension, was the displaying of the result of one of her operation to the audience whilst a member of the crowd read out questions about how to take care of this particular change following surgery (the nature of which is probably not safe for a public review like this!)
However, whilst O’Donnell tore down stigmas all around her (much to our entertainment), no matter how taboo, never once did she come across as vulgar or inappropriate.
There was audience involvement too, and it was refreshing to see that not one person amongst the crowd felt uneasy or uncomfortable. This is a quality that, in my opinion, only top performers can capture.
Kate made the transition in 2003, undergoing major surgery in Thailand, all the while also dealing with the many assumptions that others can make about her choices. Therefore there was a gravity to her words as well as an engaging style.
So, whilst the entertainment value of the piece was without question, there was a real sincerity and personal aspect that, again thanks to Kate’s on-stage persona, gave each member of the audience a connection with the show and a painted a vivid picture of Kate’s timeline of events.
Kate’s story and performance was a celebration of being able to embrace your identity in the modern age without the fear of repercussion.
The show was not only a portrayal of the journey that Kate, and many other members of the transgender community, have been through until now, but also on how the world has begun to listen to what has to be said on the subject and how it can charter a course into the future.
O’Donnell’s vast ability as an entertainer, along with an incredibly well structured piece of writing, meant that it was an intelligent, enigmatic and highly impressive celebration of being part of a community that many around the world are now learning to embrace and accept.
The breaking down of any stigmas around the subject all of a sudden made such stigmas seem medieval and out of touch.
The deft balance of wit, sincerity and outright confidence to break down walls and assumptions has certainly taken the positive representation of the transgender community to a greater level, and can hopefully offer inspiration for writers and performers alike in the years to come.
Reviewer: Robert Pritchard
Reviewed: 7th November 2017
North West End Rating: ★★★★