A festival of trans, non-binary and gender queer theatre in Exeter, what’s not to love? Come as You Are was the sort of thing that I had never been to before but was something I had to get my queer self over to straight away. The double bill of Bitter About Glitter and Deuce were, though some of the least obscure of the shows on offer, the two that were most intriguing. Besides the brief description of them online, there wasn’t a lot of information available beforehand and so I went in unsure of what to expect. That said, I still came out slightly underwhelmed.
Bitter About Glitter was definitely my favourite of the two performances. It was a genuinely heart-warming display of a mother and child navigating identity and gender. The producers were keen to point out before the show began that “it’s for the child in you, your nieces, brothers, sisters and future queers everywhere,” and they were right. It was important to bear in mind throughout that it wasn’t actually made for me, it was made for me ten years ago and all the other baby queers out there now. And I’m sure me ten years ago would have loved it; at times, I felt as though what was onstage had come straight out of some weird fantasy world my sister and I might have created.
Liz (42) and Felix (9) took us on a mission to defeat the “beigester,” or beige monster, which had been looming over them. “He is daddy’s little fighter”; “he is nice girls don’t get angry”; he was their idea of patriarchal gender roles. To destroy this monster, they ‘flew’ to Glitterland on a make-shift air balloon (which invited a series of “aww”s from the audience) in order to take advice from the Glitter God who turned out to be Felix himself. The concept really did make me wonder at the brilliance of children’s imaginations – it was easy to be drawn into the world that still seemed so haphazardly drawn from Felix’s brain. But what was most endearing was the mother-child relationship. There was a clear sense that the mother wasn’t forcing her son into performing but instead simply humouring Felix’s creation in the familiar way you see parents do. It was less like a piece of theatre and much more like a brief and special look into their everyday lives.
After Bitter About Glitter (and an unplanned toddler stage invasion), a series of adverts from the 80s were projected onstage to set the nostalgic scene for Deuce. Yet another two-person show, Deuce told the personal experiences of the individuals who grew up during Section 28, which inhibited the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities and in schools. It was an interesting delivery, and the tales Rachel and Tom told were both familiar and an important reminder that growing up gay was a whole lot harder back then. Something we all know but don’t always take the time to consider.
The performance was the comfortable mix of funny and brutally honest that you see in a lot of queer work. It was stripped back and consisted largely of childhood tales, which worked for the most part but left a little to be desired in terms of originality. As I said, their stories were familiar in a way that provoked both a sense of nostalgia and the feeling that what they were doing had been done before, a lot. But there were moments that broke your heart a little and there was a wonderful authenticity to their onstage intimacy.
Overall, both shows were lovely. They were warm and gentle and the brief David Bowie sing-along at the end of Deuce certainly left you on a high. But in all honesty, neither inspired any particularly strong feelings in me. I was neither let down or surprised and the quality of the production was wobbly at best. You could tell that the people who made it cared about it, and that it was a real labour of love, but if you weren’t in it (or didn’t know the people who were) then it was really just okay.