The stage is strewn with tins and boxes. Containers to put things in. Two performers, Rachel Mars and nat tarrab, stand before the audience in matching white vests and baggy jeans. Autobiographical in its origins this is a piece, not just about growing up as a tom boy – though of course that’s a large part of it -but more broadly about the frustration that comes from social labelling, from being wedged into slots where you just don’t fit.
In ways both playful and engaging, Mars and tarrab explore gender and identity, cramming in cod scientific lectures on life’s tendency to disappointment and advice on how to survive those disappointments when they come (by adopting a kind of psychological brace position). These disappointments can take many forms: Hollywood is not to be trusted; movies lie to you and lovers leave.
Even when covering familiar ground – there is some vigorous cunt-reclaiming in the manner of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues– the piece is entertaining and thought provoking. Where it asks do all those tom boys go? What happens when they cross the line from adolescence and adulthood? Does the frustration simply dissipate or do they learn to be more ‘female’ because it’s the easier path?
As performers, Mars and tarrab have a strong rapport both with each other and the audience. There are physical sequences during which they move in unison and, in a recurring motif, they appear to be trying to brush something off, shed something unwanted. These are interspersed with autobiographical snippets: the childhood trauma of the hated pink party dress, the coveted and beloved Spiderman trainers, the pleasures of tree-climbing and the satisfying tearing of taffeta. Naked Barbie dolls, with their alarming plastic pubic areas, are waggled with distaste; pink knickers are strung from a clothes line.
The piece is light-footed and witty, and the sense of exasperation at the narrowness of gender labels is frequently cut with humour. It is however at its most intriguing and uncomfortable as a piece when it acknowledges that there are uglier, nastier things than being asked, for the umpteenth time, if you’re in the right toilet; that to step across those well-defined gender lines is an act not without risk.
Tom Boy Blues also interrogates the tendency of marginalised groups to police their own borders, as demonstrated by the moment when tarrab turns to Mars, with her slighter frame and wavy dark hair, and menacingly suggests she’s not quite enough of a tom boy. Yet more containers; more boxes to tick and fill.
The piece utilises some familiar devices and imagery but it’s done with warmth and a nostalgic appeal – which, admittedly, will be particularly acute if your ten-year-old self was permanently dungaree clad and had a fixation with Lego. And while this terrain may have been covered before, gender identity is a fluid thing and the boundaries have, if anything, been narrowing, so their voices on this matter are both welcome and resonant.Natasha Tripney, EXEUNTMAGAZINE.COM,
- Audio loop
- British Sign Language
- Tue 1 Nov – Sat 19 Nov, 8:00pm
No performances Sundays or Mondays. Previews 1 & 2 November. BSL described 17 November. Audio-described 18 November.
Acclaimed live artists and performance makers Rachel Mars and nat tarrab go on a quest from glass blowing warehouses to supermarket aisles, from a female bootcamp to the scripts of When Harry Met Sally to see where love can exist when you can’t even find yourself. Is hope worthwhile? Is life ultimately disappointing? Come and learn the brace position against the inevitable by-products of human existence.
Sharp new writing, unreliable science and no-nonsense chat. A sell-out at The Barbican Plymouth and, most recently, at this summer’s Edinburgh Festival, this funny, powerful and disarmingly honest show is a joyful mosaic of stories of otherness.
8 Nov: What is gender anyway? with Gendered Intelligence, a community interest company who works to increase understandings of gender diversity through creative ways. We will ask: what is gender? Is it changing? Are perceptions of it shifting?
10 Nov: But she seemed like such a nice Jewish girl. A post show discussion between Mars.tarrab and Jacqueline Nicholls - the Orthodox Jewish feminist visual artist who is exhibiting in Ovalhouse's Gallery as a part of Lady-Led three very differently identified Jewish women. How can you be a feminist from within an old school religious society? What are the boundaries of more unstructured/unaffiliated Judaism? How has the three women’s Jewishness affected their work?
15 Nov: You don’t know me. The acclaimed performance artists Bobby Baker and Brian Lobel join Rachel Mars and nat tarrab for a discussion on autobiographical performance and construction
If you choose to spill your guts on stage do you sacrifice your entitlement to privacy? Is autobiographical work ultimately just wanking on stage? Does it matter? How do you know if a piece of work is autobiographical? Does the ‘autobiographical’ artist have a responsibility to truth?
"...Tomboy Blues is, for all its wit, energy, dancing, talking, lecturing and playing, disarmingly serious, holding the weight of its politics in a highly engaging and thought-provoking production. It is the slippery moments, the insecurities of this show that make it particularly intriguing and extend its life outside the intimate space of the Oval Theatre..."
- Tue 1 Nov, 8:00pm
- Wed 2 Nov, 8:00pm
- Thu 3 Nov, 8:00pm
- Fri 4 Nov, 8:00pm
- Sat 5 Nov, 8:00pm
- Tue 8 Nov, 8:00pm
- Wed 9 Nov, 8:00pm
- Thu 10 Nov, 8:00pm
- Fri 11 Nov, 8:00pm
- Sat 12 Nov, 8:00pm
- Tue 15 Nov, 8:00pm
- Wed 16 Nov, 8:00pm
- Thu 17 Nov, 8:00pm
- Fri 18 Nov, 8:00pm
- Sat 19 Nov, 8:00pm
Supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
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