Gardenia at the Gaiety Theatre

October 24, 2013

Gardenia, a requiem to ageing queens, inspired by the Dutch documentary Yo Soy Así is a tender, effervescent peak behind the curtains of a transvestite, transsexual drag cabaret. The curtain is coming down on 40-years of crude jokes, lip synced symphonies and the liberation of the camp from suited, booted and masculine restraints. But as identities are constructed and confused, the artifice is paraded before us, a tribute to and reinforcement of stereotype.

Through a series of stunning vignettes the cast ceremonialize the artifice, the composition of the self, a sad but beautiful mediation on the ageing process. But beneath the gaudy armour-the make up thick, the lashes long, the dresses simply breath taking- lies something darker. A stunted inability to ever be themselves, for themselves. Their lives tarted up or stripped bare, are a constant performance and this struggle is as marked in their appearance as the feathered wigs and boas. It is their in Steven Prengels score and the wispy rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow that opens the show. It is there in the broken, barely upright posture that comes with their day to day attire. And it is there in the continual look of surprise or desperate delight projected out to the audience.

It’s also in their failure to show a little human kindness. Their muddled sense of identity compromising their ability to help Hendrik Lebon’s “young man” – a reflection perhaps of their younger selves looking for love and acceptance from all the wrong people. His desperate, needy tussle, both beautiful and frightening is an expression of a struggle they gave up on long ago. Is it merely coincidence that the one biological woman in the cast is the only beacon of affection?

It’s an ironic failing of Gardenia that it drags on for longer than it should, each individual scene out staying its welcome by just that little bit too much. And for all its empathy it seems a little shallow. Which just might be the point.

But considering director Alain Platel’s and Frank Van Laecke so skillfully tapped into their performers general inexperience (in terms of traditional theatre) using it to stimulate the awkwardness and insecurity faced by aging trans folk you wish writer/actress Vanessa van Durme fleshed them out a little bit more and not just let the cover speak for the book

Had she exploited the discomfort and hidden homophobic tendencies of her audience, as she did with her peppered jokes, Gardenia could have done more than just shimmer. It could have shone, reflecting on a community that has only just started to come out from underground. What effect has societies suppression had on them?

The hollow beauty still hits a mark though and the emergence of these feathered butterflies from their conservative larvae is one of the most delicious things I have witnessed all year.


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