With all forms of theatre that promise to be personal, political, and a tad eccentric, I do my best to go in with no expectations, allowing the show to paint over the blank canvas of my mind, to educate and enlighten me. For Non-Binary Electro Hour, I certainly couldn’t have done it any other way. An electrifying spectacle of art, impersonations, politics and spoken word, the show was a unique and eye-opening exploration of gender through performance.
Part of the Come As You Are Festival – a celebration of trans, non-binary and genderqueer theatre which travelled to Exeter this weekend – the captivating show was an important artistic look at the space between bodies and identity, examining how one lives – how one should live – outside our imposed gender binaries. The show was led by Drag Artist, Ray Filar, a stunning performer who held their audience in the palm of their hands, taking us into their beautiful world of gender fluidity. Ray was joined by two fellow dancers, one with a large pink heart, and the other blue, painted onto their faces. They first approached the stage out of the audience as if they were aggressive and controlling spectators. They appeared to symbolise the demonstrative nature of the ‘male’ and ‘female’ binaries, verbally attacking our Drag Artist who spoke on how to live unapologetically between or outside of them.
Ray’s ground-breaking piece was scattered with comical impersonations, extravagant cabaret lip-syncs, and powerful political commentaries. One of my favourite scenes was the Judith Butler interview, a skilfully executed one-man show featuring hilarious readings of Butler’s iconic works, to the rhythm of a deep synth beat. A display I never expected but will never forget. The array of sketches throughout perfected a considerably difficult balance, one which evokes tears of laughter and of empathy – certainly impressive for an act only an hour long.
Beneath the humorous sketches and the excessively glamorous telephone which introduced genderqueer icons of past and present to the stage, was a powerful intimacy and genuineness in their expression. In particular, Ray’s spoken word was beautifully moving, streams of intimate and poetic thought constructed with the most gripping language, frequently emphasised by repetition to convey their real, raw emotion. Their articulation was stunning in clarity, and while I’m not often a fan of spoken word out of fear it has become clichéd, Ray’s poetry blew me away. Their evocation of trans sex was powerfully explicit, as they conveyed their anger towards the sexualisation that trans individuals face, while reclaiming that trans sexual power through their anecdotal speech. The poetry was accompanied by a mesmerising movement piece, as thin, white ribbons were delicately tied all around them, creating an elegant and entangled web of fabric and bodies in which the sexual message is visibly present.
Extraordinary visuals and powerful poetry aside, Ray’s audience interaction and captivating stage presence is also commendable, as they ensured our eyes were never distracted from their performance. I’ve been to very few shows where the audience appeared to be hanging onto every single word, allowing Ray to assert their message of making yourself heard, and speaking for yourself before others can speak of or for you. Apart from being a personal theatrical piece, Non-Binary Electro Hour was an empowering call to reclaim the slurs that all queer individuals unfortunately face, and to make something beautiful of them, leaving only you to define yourself.
Bold and brave, Ray Filar’s show was an exceptional piece which demonstrated the importance of destroying our preconceptions of ‘gender’, and embracing the beautiful, limitless world outside of binaries.