Thursday 2nd August 2018 at the Etcetera Theatre, Camden.
Mitchell Jay stuns, mystifies, enlightens, amuses and moves with S/he/it Happens – a solo show looking at Gender Dysphoria and a struggle with identity as a whole. One character arrives to a pristine office space (stylish set design sees clock, message board and coat rail hanging from threads in a neat row – hanging in the balance, a little like our protagonist) and as the hours spin by (literally), they experiment with their form to explore the discord felt between mind and body.
It’s fascinating and flooring to see how a piece of theatre can be so laugh-out-loud hilarious, energetic and full of twinkle-eyed charm yet also be so deeply moving. It’s a rare kind of show which can say so much, with both subtlety and broad strokes, with only a few utterances to accompany a perfected physical performance.
Jay is a sincere, magnetic performer from the moment they step on stage – beginning playfully, with an endearing awkwardness, the laughs come quickly and generously and only when the audience is completely invested in this character’s exploration of who they are and how they want to be does Jay skilfully begin to draw out the depth of the narrative – intertwining the comic with the thought-provoking while only ever hinting at darker consequences of this dysphoria, delivering emotional tugs with great insight.
The physicality is brilliantly conceived and hilariously realised on stage, from awkward contortions to slapstick and face-clasping, peeking-through-fingers movement, the comedy of this piece is spot on – it is impossible not to laugh, and laugh loudly, just as it’s impossible not to feel some measurement of sadness.
And even while laughing at the voices and the physicality, the eyes prick with tears and the heart catches for this character and their predicament. At some point, the sad realisation kicks in and repeats in the mind: ‘they don’t know how to be… to move, to stand, to speak, to ‘fit’, to be – because for all of the hilarity, and there’s plenty of it, there’s a deep sense of discontent and frustration that this very likeable, very bubbly character feels – and you just find yourself wanting, more than anything, for them to find that happy place they’re so pre-occupied and tormented by.
In many ways, an almost wordless world is the best possible forum for trying to capture such a complex experience so tied up with physicality. Their affection for a form and figure they can only momentarily and artificially emulate for now is sweet, tragic, comic and endearing all at once, and to communicate this non-verbally through sighs, sounds and physicality alone is just one reason why this show is so impressive.
It’s a talented creative mind which creates a uniquely personal show like this and makes it somehow accessible to all; to take an experience felt by a minority and make a majority understand it even a little is a powerful thing indeed. There’s non-sexual nudity which quickly becomes hilarious and is used to highlight the disconnect felt by the character – this is not the chest of their dreams, so they must figure out a way to adapt – literally.
There’s also a unique brand of puppetry and truly brilliant audience participation in what can only be described as an utterly fearless and selfless performance from Jay. I think this production is finely balanced, carefully crafted for significant impact and delivered with such charisma that it’s impossible to not be on side and to seek happiness for this character. It’s the kind of show which makes me so happy that the Camden Fringe exists – catch this show if you can.
S/he/it Happens plays the Camden Fringe at Etcetera Theatre until 3rd August and you can find tickets here.