‘Overflow’: a punchy and poignant monologue about a trans woman’s relationship with washrooms

Theatre, Experimental
Overflow, Bush Theatre, 2020
Photo by Sharron Wallace Overflow Bush Theatre Trans

Time Out says

Reece Lyons stars in Travis Alabanza’s forceful new monologue

Due to London entering Tier 3 there will be no more live performances of ‘Overflow’ for now, but it will stream digitally Jan 18-23. See the Bush Theatre website for ticketing details.

One of the blessings of being a cishet etc male is that I haven’t had to devote very much thinking time towards the use of public toilets. 

This fierce, funny and fascinating monologue from trans writer Travis Alabanza – performed by trans actor Reece Lyons – makes the case for the ol’ washroom as a complex, ambiguous space, a liminal zone between acceptance and rejection, safety and danger, male and female.

As sketched out by Max Johns’s acid-bright set, the toilets Debbie Hannan’s zingy production are most concerned with are nightclub loos. Indeed, Lyons’s character Rosie nominally spends the entirety of ‘Overflow’ locked inside a cubicle, holding grand court to us, her audience, while nervously trying to ignore the hammerings on the door – almost horror movie-style sound design from Francis Botu – of some never-seen lads who presumably want to batter her.

What’s particularly interesting is her unwillingness to call her childhood best friend to help her, despite the offer standing: Rosie is uncomfortably aware of the fact that even to cis women who accept her, she is regarded as something of an interesting novelty, and is loathe to be ‘rescued’ and made a fuss of like a cat up a tree. At the same time, all of her best times in nightclub toilets have been when she’s seamlessly blended into the group and been accepted unquestioningly. The euphoria engendered by just belonging clearly means the world to her. But the lingering suspicion is that there is no sense of permanence to these moments of acceptance.

Alabanza warms to their theme, with other toilets popping up along the way – the home toilet Rosie hid in as a child, after watching a wildy unsuitable horror movie; the primary school toilets Rosie was blamed for flooding. They constantly appear as places that should be safe, but always come with a sprinkling of danger.

At heart there’s something a little old-fashioned about it, at least formally – it’s a fairly old-school, agit-ish monologue that is less overtly radical than Alabanza’s previous outing, ‘Burgerz’. But in 2020 it still feels inherently progressive to spend an hour sat in a theatre listening to a trans character played by a trans actor and written by a trans writer offer up their wildly different take on a space that has never felt more than functional to me. And it’s an electrifying, kinetic turn from Lyons, wide-ranging and confident. It’s surely not the last we’ll hear from her – if she’s given a fair chance.

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