Boy Stroke Girl – Etcetera Theatre, London

Writer &Director: Ian Dixon Potter
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

We live in enlightened times, don’t we? Told we can do anything, be anything, try anything we want to, and find our individuality. But that’s not quite how things really are. Even for the unconventional there are recognisable traits, a look, a way of being that is “acceptable” – if you want to be different you have to be different in the same way as a lot of other people. But for all our theoretical tolerance and belief in the idea of “live and let live” if faced with someone genuinely alternative, could you accept them?

tell-us-block_editedIan Dixon Potter’s play Boy Stroke Girl running at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden explores the idea of gender identity and whether it is possible to form a meaningful and long-lasting relationship with someone without labelling them as male or female. After meeting the androgynous and enigmatic Blue, Peter tells his friends he had “an interesting experience in Café Nero” and without knowing Blue’s gender the pair end-up on a series of sexless dates. As Peter begins to fall for Blue, his family and friends find it difficult to accept the legitimacy of the relationship and try to convince him that Blue isn’t different, just hiding.

Dixon Potter’s play raises plenty of thought-provoking debates about the nature of gender and humanity’s need to label and categorise everything. It’s an intellectually rigorous play and when not talking about Blue’s identity many of the ‘everyday’ discussions are about art criticism and the scurrilous effect of social media. And it feels like a very London story as two people with multiple jobs meet, have cerebral dates on the Southbank and discuss the freedom the capital city offers them to live the lives they want.

Where it falls-down slightly is in creating characters that are sympathetic and rounded (with the exception of Peter) as well as slightly generic representations of a particular point of view. Blue should be the most interesting person in the play, with underlying motivations that could be more about keeping others at a distance than living a genuinely alternative lifestyle, but too often he / she (and we never know for sure) is merely a mouthpiece for a set of arguments that don’t quite feel like natural speech. Ilaria Ciardelli plays Blue with force and a determined elusiveness but the audience, like Peter, is never really allowed to see beneath the surface which makes hard to really understand or empathise.

Thomasin Lockwood and Duncan Mason are given a variety of supporting roles, including Peter’s friends and parents that largely espouse the same views which lead to much repetition and rehashing of the same prejudicial arguments extending the plays runtime, so Dixon Potter could conflate some of these discussions to omit extraneous scenes. Lockwood and Mason add to the humour though as Peter’s mother and father perplexed at meeting Blue for first time, which really emphasises the idea of separation between attitudes in London and beyond.

Gianbruno Spena’s Peter is the most interesting character and the one given the most opportunity to show development and comprise, which Spena portrays very well. Peter’s open and easy-going nature makes him an engaging protagonist and while the attraction to the somewhat unyielding Blue isn’t always obvious, it becomes clear that this play is really about Peter truly accepting Blue’s ambiguity – something which could be given more time in the text,

It is certainly true that many people in London have a “stroke”, no one is ever just one thing; waiter / actor, accountant / playwright, parent / mime artist, the list is endless, but is it really possible to break away from our social conditioning and stop categorising people? Boy Stroke Girl does ask some very interesting questions about the way we all see the world and even considers whether labelling is just a sensible way to make sense of chaos. Whether you’re happy being conventional or want to live entirely differently, Dixon Potter’s play will force you to question whether you could really accept someone for who they want to be.

Runs until 12 March 2017 | Image: Contributed

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