Rhum and Clay’s Testosterone is organised as a series of questions. Kit Redstone’s text raises questions like ‘When did I become a man?’, ‘Have I ever become a woman?’, and ‘Is this how you see me?’ which structure this journey through identity, masculinity and self-knowing. These questions for Redstone are not merely rhetorical. As a trans man a year after his first injection of testosterone, he uses them not only to better understand himself, but also to examine and unpack the complex, contradictory and sometimes toxic world of men.
So what better place to set the action than the most quintessential of masculine spaces: the locker room. Julian Spooner and Matthew Wells, artistic directors of Rhum and Clay, lounge about with a lazy machismo, showing off their bromance (and other things) for everyone to see. Daniel Jacob sits to the side, going through a pre-workout routine. An angled mirror hangs over the stage, reflecting both the action and the audience. Much of Testosterone is about what we show and who sees it. And so the gym, as a place where mirrors and self-improvement dominate, acts not just as an overtly manly environment, but as a space for Redstone to reflect on himself and his position in the world.
The gym provides the backdrop to a set of over-the-top and often very funny vignettes about gender and relationships. Devised and worked on as a collective, the ensemble’s physicality, particularly when parodying strapping lads, is slick and inventive; they stretch out studly mannerisms to absurd hilarity. And Jacob, who finds a dress in a locker and adorns full drag ensemble, struts and sings and gives Kelis-milkshake-realness with charisma and sparkle. Stereotypes of men — cowboys or sport studs — are played out with lighthearted irony. Perhaps some vignettes go on for too long, but it’s a minor point and the conceit remains clear.
The humour, though, is also married to a struggle that flickers in Redstone’s eyes. It is with touching honesty that he explores some of the challenges and dangers that face the transgender community. And as an audience, we are reminded that sometimes theatre isn’t just theatre — it is also a life being lived out in front of our eyes. Redstone and ensemble, even when playing in total fantasy, are always conscious of reality, and aware that day-to-day moments are the ones that hold the most meaning.
One of the most striking parts of Testosterone is the astute representation of relationships between men. Again through humour, although this time more barbed, it portrays how masculinity can be toxic, fueling the alienation and subjugation of others, and even violence. It also points to the lack of space for vulnerability among men.
Redstone remarks, ‘When did we lose the right to cry?’ Again, this is not a rhetorical question. And here Testosterone forces us to do some self-searching. The song that bookends the piece, I Wanna Be Like You from the Jungle Book, expresses a desire not just be someone else, but to find someone else within. Lucid, funny, and moving, Rhum and Clay’s Testosterone ends up reflecting back at us our own world, a world where masculinity is both a loaded concept and a lived experience.
Testosterone is on at the New Diorama until 3rd December 2016. Click here for more details.