Bedlam Theatre’s cool and vibrant atmosphere is the perfect venue for this timely production.
Dr. James Barry, one of The University of Edinburgh’s most esteemed alumni, is the subject of the play and the Shrinking Violet collective interestingly chose to let the audience in on their creative process; in verbatim clips we’re given an insight into discussions around how to honour Barry’s gender identity, including casting a trans cast member. The show, therefore, has a meta feel – the participants do not shy away from making fun of their initial ideas when conceiving the play’s narrative which while well-meaning were off the mark. The verbatim interviews provide authenticity and depth. This is arguably where the play’s best material comes from – the humour and structure are strongest here.
Other narrative choices do not have the same pay off – there are musical breaks throughout where the cast gesticulate wildly and lip sync, which the audience seems to enjoy initially but as we delve deeper into the representations of James Barry, the tonal shift becomes much more stark. Furthermore, a scene which takes aim at E.J. Levy, an academic whose recent novel about Barry is courting a great deal of controversy, is a questionable choice. The depiction of Levy being interviewed about her novel lasts precious minutes and detracted from the real star of the show and their extraordinary achievements.
With all the varying narrative styles thrown into the mix; verbatim interviews, reconstructions and musical breaks – there was perhaps ultimately too much going on.