CroydoNites Festival event review: Kate O’Donnell’s Big’s Girl’s Blouse, Friday 20th November


By - Friday 4th December, 2015

Stand by your trans. John Lawlor listens to a plea for understanding behind the laughter


Photo by Vipul Sangoi, used with permission.

The final night of the CroydoNites Festival of New Theatre saw a moving and entertaining cabaret-style performance at Stanley Halls in Norwood. This was a one-woman show with a difference.

Opening with ‘Let me entertain you’, we were introduced to Kate and the theme of the evening: her transgendered life as it evolved, told through monologues, slide shows, belting show tunes and costume changes.

Born the youngest of three boys, her dad used to call her a ‘big girl’s blouse’. When her younger sister was born, Kate envied the ease with which her sister could be a girl. An early victory was getting her weekly comic switched from the ‘Beano’ to ‘Twinkle’ (particularly enjoying the cut-out paper dolly outfits on the back page). Theatricality beckoned and helped. She employed “every theatrical trick in the book to survive”. Growing up in Coventry, she admired its patron ‘saint’ Lady Godiva not just for her courage, but as a “pioneering lady burlesque artist”.

Kate’s school accused her of being ‘overly effeminate’

Kate discovered a posh and theatrical family down the road where she felt more at home. We were treated to a hilarious comparison between them and her own more conventional family. It was the ’70s. Never mind transgender, her family “was still getting their heads around Findus crispy pancakes”. Accused by her school of being ‘overly effeminate’, the girls’ parts in school plays abruptly dried up.

And so the story of her life unfolded. Later in the show we re-lived her three comings out: first as a gay man, then as a drag queen, and finally as a transgender woman – a thirty year process. The finale of the show was a lovingly adapted version of Tammy Wynette’s most famous tune: ”Stand by your trans/When you’ve the body of a man…” in which Kate was joined by a chorus from the lesbian and gay asylum seekers’ choir Rainbows Across Borders and The Pink Singers (invited choirs being a regular feature of the tour).

When your child is born, gender doesn’t matter; you just care that it’s ok. Can’t we hold onto that?

Witty, illuminating, very human. This was a plea for understanding made with a colourful and comic entertainment.

The show was followed by a Q&A session, appropriate for Transgender Day of Remembrance. The panel consisted of Kate, a trans man and a trans child and her mum. Much of the discussion was around understanding the issues surrounding transitioning in childhood. One contribution that stayed in my mind: “When your child is born, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a boy or a girl, just whether it’s ok. Can’t we apply this same thinking and feeling throughout life?”

The end of the Croydonites Festival – how brilliant was that! Four original, diverse and eclectic shows. Congratulations to Anna Arthur and team, and all the artists.

John Lawlor

John Lawlor

I am a mindfulness enthusiast and co-founder of Croydon HeartWorks (www.heartworks.org.uk) organising and participating in community events with an emphasis on mindfulness, community, arts and fun.

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