Gender Euphoria review by Laura Hartnell

****stars

The speigeltent was a kaleidoscope of rainbow light when the cast of ‘Gender Europhia’ – Australia’s biggest line-up of trans and gender-diverse performers – took their final raucous bows.

After a sell-out premier at this year’s Midsumma Festival, Maude Davey and Mama Alto return a diverse and wonderful cast in their latest iteration of this variety night, which is equal parts joyous and sincere. The show is not without its messiness – but aren’t we all? And this is its message – that no matter what life you’re living, it is yours, and it is hard, but you are beautiful just as you are. Of course, this show’s very existence is also a political rallying cry. It is working not only to create a space where trans and gender-diverse communities can feel welcomed and celebrated in a mainstage festival context that so often shuts them out, but it is also a transgressive cry to the generally white, middle-class audience that fills the seats of Melbourne Festival.

The Spiegeltent is the perfect venue for it – burlesque-y and intimate, it is also reflective and gorgeous, with its red velvet and mirror-lined walls. The kaleidoscopic feel is aided by toy glasses on each seat that turn the stage lights into refracted, multiplied shapes and make the performers look like they are part of an underwater glitter party.

Mama Alto opens the show with a monologue about how, given a binary option on a telephone survey of pressing 1 for ‘male’ (“why does ‘male’ always come first?” she asks) and 2 for ‘female,’ she mashed the number 6, even though it wasn’t a “valid number” according to the survey. “Goodbye gender dysphoria, hello gender euphoria!” she cries, and after her follows a string of acts that make this variety night properly variable. Her care for her fellow performers is gorgeous, and she is at her shiniest when she welcomes them onstage with pure love in her eyes.

Highlights of the night included Harvey Zelinski’s monologue that incorporates both boxing and Blanche DuBois into a coming out story, Miss Bailee Rose’s joyful and subversive movement, and poet Nevo Zisin’s work informing us gently and beautifully that they are the “gender whisperer,” coming through the crowd telling people, “You are magic. You are loved. You are not alone.” Amao Leota Lu and Tiwi Islands sister Crystal Love shared their experiences of being trans and non-binary people through outrageous lip-syncing and performance. Most touching, though, was a the double-act between Mahla Bird and Quinn Eades, which mixed aerial circus work with song and spoken word to create a profoundly moving performance that traversed both transcendency and precarity.

‘Gender Euphoria’ is a beautiful romp, holding vulnerability, courage and glorious mess at its big-hearted core. But this utopia is built on a foundation of pain, and the show’s real strength is balancing both of these truths with tenderness and honesty. This is radical joy.

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