The masculinity quest

| by Eleanor Turney

Rhum and Clay's Julian Spooner talks masculinity, celebrating difference, and learning to live with insecurity

Testosterone by Rhum and ClayPhotograph: Richard Davenport

We think that our show, TESTOSTERONE, will have a really interesting appeal to an international market. It's about a trans male, someone who has recently transitioned. But importantly, it's a co-creation with transgender writer/director Kit Redstone who has written the show, and we've merged our theatre style with his to create something original.

So the show goes beyond just celebrating difference, and shares autonomy with Kit as the creator of the piece, which is incredibly important, as there can be a misconception that trans people are just stories rather than artists. Kit is an artistic director in his own right and this is the first time he's used loosely autobiographical material about his transition to write a play.

Theatre and art are spaces that should be open for conversation, discourse and expression. Our show definitely is that. It's an open exploration of masculinity, and it's an honest, no-holds-barred look at everything. In a world where we seem to be getting more extreme discourse and people are polarised, it's incredibly important to have work that is celebrating difference. But also it's important that we have work that's constantly questioning and re-evaluating the way we think and act towards each other.

"It's an open exploration of masculinity"

Kit and I knew each other before he transitioned. We're friends, and the whole show has come from a conversation we had when he told me he was transitioning. We started talking, and I realised that although so many of his experiences are specific to him as a trans man, they also reverberate and echo into all of us.

These observations about what kind of man he'll become are something that we all go through, and maybe never stop going through. There's this amazing universality to a lot of his experiences.

However, the uniqueness of his specific experience was an exciting starting point for us. He told a story about using the men's changing room for the first time and a moment of fear that he experienced which we crafted into the heartbeat of the show.

I've always been interested in the poetry that can be found in a seemingly mundane situation. And there's something about that kind of vulnerability and exposure that, on a human level, everyone has experienced. All of the insecurities of his character are mirrored in the other men in that changing room.

"The story goes beyond transgender issues"

His dreams and icons, the men he wants to be, are the men that everyone wants to be. It's really universal. The story goes beyond transgender issues. It's about someone who's looking for an identity and trying to understand who he is. It's a quest narrative that just happens to be through the lens of a trans male. Anyone who's gone through puberty, or is going through puberty, will relate to it.

Rhum and Clay try to make innovative work that is totally accessible. We want to engage with audiences and we always want to make work that invites them into our world. Most of our work is first and foremost entertaining. Kit's work is always very direct and challenging; he aims to keep the audience on their toes by surprising them, by crafting narrative in an unusual way.

He also uses direct address in a way that confronts the reality of the room, the here and now. What we share is a love for absurdity, fun and playfulness. This show is a lot funnier than people will expect it to be! 

Without being dismissive of the issues, the humour really brings out the truth in our misunderstandings and how we can be inherently uncomfortable in the world. I think it's going to be a show that people enjoy on different levels. 

Julian Spooner, Co-Artistic Director of Rhum and Clay, was talking to Eleanor Turneya freelance journalist, editor and arts consultant, and Co-Director of Incoming Festival.

TESTOSTERONE will be at Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance Two from 4–27 August #EdShowcase

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