Walking into the theatre space at the Rose Lipman Building, a small crowd has formed around the bar. Four seats face us from an otherwise rather bleak stage and an array of microphones and musical instruments keep watch from the sidelines. As we take our seats, a rather noticeable soundtrack plays about the room – Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison is followed by Bananarama’s Venus before the intoxicating lilt of Rihanna’s Man Down ripples through the audience. All songs that highlight and reinforce gender roles. Seven people make their way into the space and stand, simply observing us. Over the course of an hour, they seize the notion of gender, with all its accompanying expectations and restrictions, and shred it into pieces before scattering them into the air, caring not where they land.
Weaving together autobiographical stories, moments of stand-up, physical theatre and rather surreal tableaux, And the Rest of Me Floats shows us brief snippets of the intrusive and aggressive conversations, questions and issues experienced by people who do not conform with society’s expectations of gender. We see parents ridiculing their child’s self-expression, teenagers basking in the newfound anonymity of internet chatrooms and the precarious moment of coming out to sexual partners. Throughout the piece, there is an insistent, exhausting torrent of personal and sometimes obscure questions, showing how our misguided approach to supporting transgender people and those who move about the gender spectrum often further objectifies them.
And the Rest of Me Floats is a very successful piece. Choosing not to tiptoe around the minefield of gender discussion, it instead takes flight, soaring blissfully into a realm where people are seen for their minds and personalities rather than their body parts. The cast works together wonderfully, meshing individuality with solidarity while the stylistic diversity of the scenes is refreshing and thought-provoking. Moments of dialogue are followed by intricate, machine-like choreography and booming house music and the use of storytelling and real-life experiences gives the piece sincerity. Tamir Amar Pettet and Elijah W Harris keep the show grounded with their understated, considered performances while, in contrast, Yasmin Zadeh and Barry Fitzgerald deliver the comedy expertly.
One of the most enjoyable moments of the piece comes early on, as the entire cast takes to the microphones for an ensemble performance of Teenage Dirtbag. Irreverent, rebellious and studded with moments of humour – it’s a stark contrast to a later scene, equally as powerful, in which the cast undresses and redresses in the darkness under the scrutiny of a single torch, a sobering portrayal of society’s interrogatory gaze.
Perhaps the most successful aspect of And the Rest of Me Floats is the angle it takes when presenting us with the complexities of gender. Full of insight, it is both poetic and raw yet doesn’t shame its audience for our lack of knowledge or experience. Rather, it encourages us to question our obsession with labelling and confining people. This is a fantastic new production from Outbox Theatre, who are well on their way to dominating the world of queer theatre.
Reviewed by Alex Foott