Aug 26 2019 | By More

★★★☆☆      Smiling engagement

Bedlam Theatre (Venue 49): Wed 21 – Sat 25 Aug 2019
Review by Federica Balbi

Barry, Shrinking Violet’s devised play which is at the Bedlam for five days only, attempts to find out who Edinburgh’s famous Doctor James Barry really was.

No, really: Who? A woman? A transvestite? The first transgender individual? A hermaphrodite? With irony and hilarity, the play delves into Barry’s identity, trying to find contrast with the traditional interpretation.

Charlotte Hawkins, Ryan Kay and Chloe Austin. Pic: Shrinking Violet

Young company Shrinking Violet chooses to treat this topic with a fresh and quick-rhythmed comedy. Meta-theatre is the way: five girls want to perform the story, but are confused by the contrasting pieces of information they find. Eventually, they decide to hold an audition for a trans man, who is to play the protagonist’s part.

In this way, the question about Barry’s gender goes together with another one: how to create a play about him. At first, Francesca Sellors, Jess Haygarth, Louisa Doyle, Charlotte Hawkins and Chloe Austin are convinced he was a straight woman under cover; the first woman to graduate from the University of Edinburgh and to become a famous surgeon.

This is the most common interpretation of the story. But what if Barry was trans, as others think, and not a woman forced to pretend to be a man to achieve her goals? The political consequences are heavy. Having chosen this second reading, Ryan Avery-Long is asked to play Barry’s character. His interpretation is fresh and energetic, with a strong power on stage that catalyses attention.

Louisa Doyle and Charlotte Hawkins. Pic: Shrinking Violet

Through the play you begin to enter Barry’s life – but are then drawn out again into the discussion of his life and about the play itself. Everyone is wearing male clothes: white old-fashioned pyjama trousers and crumpled large shirts – right down to the boxers. You can’t but laugh at this old, masculine-centred society.

Even though the plot could be more strongly built, the show is funny and original. Rock music and small (more or less effective) dance sequences contribute to the light tone of the play.

And for once, we are allowed – encouraged indeed – to have a non-judgemental laugh about the topic of trans identities.

Running time: 1 hour (no interval)
Bedlam Theatre, 11b Bristo Place, EH1 1EZ (Venue 49)
Wednesday 21 – Sunday 25 August
Daily: 3.30pm
Tickets and details:

Facebook: @barryshrinkingviolet
Instagram: @barryshrinkingviolet

Chloe Austin, Jess Haygarth, Louisa Doyle and Charlotte Hawkins. Pic Shrinking Violet


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  1. It’s Barry to be Barry : All Edinburgh | Jan 8 2020