FESTIVAL THEATRE BOY IN A DRESS
Third gender performer La JohnJoseph talks to Yasmin Sulaiman about his autobiographical show, which combines
storytelling with music, vaudeville and striptease
drawn to its immediacy – that you can make performance and live art with your body. That’s all you need: your own ideas, your own body. You don’t need any of the kind of tools and levers that bring something like a novel into the world.’ His inl uences include groundbreaking American performance artist Penny Arcade, with whom he’s worked in the past, and third gender pioneer Justin Vivian Bond. And his eclectic taste in music means Boy in a Dress has a varied soundtrack, from Leonard Cohen’s ‘Clean White Bed’ to Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Sweet Child of Mine’.
The Boy in a Dress team will also be undertaking some outreach work while they’re in Edinburgh, alongside charities LGBT Youth Scotland and Voice UK, to promote cultural inclusion at the Festival. They’ve also enjoyed a successful crowd-funding drive, a tool that’s proving ever more useful for cash-strapped artists. ‘ALL YOU NEED IS YOUR OWN IDEAS, YOUR OWN BODY’
La JohnJoseph has even seen his writing ambitions come to fruition after being approached by a literary agent. But he isn’t letting all this success go to his head.
‘You just do your own thing,’ he says, ‘and sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s terrible. And at a certain point people decide that it has some sort of cultural value and start telling other people about it. I can’t say I’m not l attered but I’m aware that I mustn’t get caught up in that because if people love what I do or hate what I do, it’s a little bit like white noise – I’m just going to do what I do.’ Boy in a Dress, The Stand Comedy Club III & IV, 558 7272, 6-26 Aug (not 13), 4.20pm, £10. Previews 2–5 Aug, £5.
L a JohnJoseph has a distinct memory of his i rst foray into performance. ‘I wore a cocktail dress and my dear friend Gina wore my suit and we created that infamous scene from Showgirls where they have sex in the swimming pool, and we did that to the soundtrack of Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done For Me Lately”. It was pretty diabolical. But I really haven’t looked back since.’
It’s a sheepish recollection but its brashness is a good indicator of this artist’s sexual, musical style. La JohnJoseph is a third gender performer – ‘To put it simply,’ he explains, ‘it just means a person who doesn’t feel strictly as though they are a man or strictly as though they are a woman, but equally doesn’t feel the need to switch between those two pre-fabricated genders.’
Over the last i ve years, he’s created a quiet buzz in the US and Europe with his innovative, autobiographical theatre. Having worked as a stripper and boylesque performer in New York, the Liverpool-born artist now fuses striptease, vaudeville and music to explore gender, faith and identity.
La JohnJoseph’s latest work, Boy in a Dress, is directed by Sarah Chew, who brought us Stella Duffy’s Medea at last year’s Fringe, and arrives in Edinburgh after a lauded run at South London’s Ovalhouse Theatre. ‘It’s totally autobiographical,’ he says. ‘It’s all true, even the bits I made up.’ In fact, Boy in a Dress is a composite of three autobiographical shows: Notorious Beauty, which explores ‘gender, identity, beauty and deviancy’; I Happen to Like New York, a depiction of his time spent in the city; and Unclass Hero, about his life growing up in a Liverpool council estate. During these early years, La JohnJoseph wanted to be a writer, but was quickly lured to the stage. ‘When I started to perform,’ he explains, ‘I was
66 THE LIST 2–9 Aug 2012
BATTLE ROYALE A French/Belgian duo is shedding light on the relationship between Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I. Mark Fisher meets them
Talk about coals to Newcastle. Barbara Sylvain and Lula Béry are a French/Belgian double act who thought it’d be a good idea to bring a show about Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I to Scotland. The 16th century tale of the francophone Mary and her virginal counterpart, monarchs of neighbouring countries who never met, is a cornerstone of the Scottish tourism industry, not to mention the stage work of Friedrich Schiller and Liz Lochhead, so their comic lecture-cum-physical theatre piece has some tough competition. The good news is It’s So Nice is
tremendous fun. Part of a beefed-up Fringe programme at the French Institute, it’s a quirky bilingual history play that combines oddball i lm footage from the Scottish heritage trail with Lecoq-inspired physical theatre and deadpan comedy. ‘We went on the trail of Mary Stuart to
see what Scotland was now,’ says Sylvain when we meet at the Avignon Festival. ‘It was interesting to see how strong the story was for the Scottish people. We’re excited to play in Edinburgh, but we’re wondering how it will be received by the Scottish public.’
What attracted the two performers to the story, who were more inspired by a 1930s biography by Stefan Zweig than the male-heavy world of Schiller’s Mary Stuart, was the chance to play such powerful women. ‘Stefan Zweig’s book has a nice understanding of these two women,’ she says. ‘It’s not Elizabeth, the ugly woman and Mary, the poor girl. No, it’s more subtle, psychological and intelligent. For us it was perfect, because there’s no black and white: it’s a mix, like all of us are.’ Throw in a spot of quirky humour and
you have a show that’s as entertaining as it is thoughtful. ‘We play with the ridiculous,’ says Béry. ‘Sometimes, the life of these women was very difi cult, but there was light too.’ ■ It’s So Nice, Institut francais d’Ecosse, 225 5366, 4–24 Aug (not 11 & 12, 18 & 19), 4pm, £10 (£8). Preview 3 Aug, £5.