Arriving at the main cabaret space of Pleasance London for 52 Monologues for Young Transsexuals, a show I overlooked at Vault and which has since run successfully at Edinburgh Fringe, you are met by Charli Cowgill, one of the performers, with an invitation to spit into a glass.
This is not going to be a show like you’ve seen before. While Charli is busy collecting, Laurie Ward is dancing behind a curtain to the club classics blaring through the speakers as we find our seats. I chose front row.
There are no monologues here, rather both women (“we are trans women, can you tell?”, they challenge while pointing torches into the audience) present material from both verbatim interviews and their own experience as “trans women without vaginas”.
It’s a show which is deeply informative, moving, and disturbing. Charli takes vocal coaching to sound more feminine which means saying little, and saying it quietly. Laurie as a maturing teenager deals with deeply sexual messages online reducing her to an object of curiosity.
With plenty of trigger warnings on the booking website, the door, and flashed up on a screen, 23 Monologues is no easy ride, yet presents a core story of two friends who met on a double date with two brothers and always look out for each other.
The music is quirky, played at slow pace, speeded up, presented in cheeky hints, and eventually showcases both ladies at their best lip-synch power with the Streisand & Summer dance-floor filler “Enough is Enough”.
Elsewhere, we hear about the problem of finding high heels for male-sized feet, the dark side of BDSM expectations, what it means to “feel like a woman”, how to navigate casual sex as a person not an experiment, and a shocking moment where a recent real-life experience brings in a sobering dose of reality.
23 Monologues is not a show you can quickly forget, and although I went alone, I have been discussing themes from it at home this morning. As a cis woman, I value my trans sisters, but I understand we are not the same, although as Laurie and Charli point out, no woman has it easy.
This is the story of identity, friendship, dysphoria, lust, and vulnerability. I’m glad I’ve finally seen it, and from the whoops and cheers of my fellow audience members, Nothing More To Say (Ilona Sell directs the show) will definitely have more for us in the future.
23 Monologues only ran one night at Pleasance, but watch out for the performers elsewhere and take a look at Laurie’s website.