Plaster Cast Theatre’s Sound Cistem puts trans right at the heart of the stage. The show, at Home as part of its Push Festival, made me feel every emotion possible, and I came away wanting to see it again, and feeling I had just witnessed one of the bravest, most clever and best performances I have seen for some time.
Plaster Cast Theatre are a collective of young creatives who make politically engaging theatre, with an emphasis on physical theatre. Their mission is to challenge issues which are heavily misrepresented by the media through raw and provocative forms of physical theatre. Sound Cistem tackles perception of, and reaction to trans from cis (non-trans) people.
The one-hour performance explores the ‘cisgender gaze’, of how trans people are constantly framed as objects of fascination or hostility for cis people. By the very clever use of recorded dialogue, sync music and beats and trans performers, and puts the audience member in the shoes of what it is like to be trans.
Before the performance starts we see an empty stage, coloured in the blue, white and pink of the trans flag, while FatBoy Slim’s ‘Praise You’ lyrics play out: ‘We’ve come a long long way together, Through the hard times and the good, I have to celebrate you baby, I have to praise you like I should’.
Sound Cistem is a dance show situated in a night club, with trans performers, Lizzie Morris and Ayden Brouwers on stage, moving in slow motion. As they move, their recorded voices take centre stage: We are trans. This is us. These are our bodies . .. What do you see? . . . How do we look? . .. How do you look at us? The lights and music mimick that of a nightclub where we have been invited to join them. Sound Cistem goes on to explore gendered expectations present in nightclubs, from bathrooms and smoking areas to clothing and sexuality.
Accompanying the performers and music, is a background voiceover from a range of transgender and non-binary people aged 18-25, who were interviewed about their struggles and experiences. Their dialogue conveys how a nightclub is a place where (if full of like-minded trans people is their perfect world) they can be themselves, dance how they want, and feel free from cis-social norms. The voiceover explores the range of threats trans people can experience in a night club, given as honest and often raw first-hand experiences.
With nothing on stage but the two individuals, using only their bodies as a means of communication, the focus is entirely on them, and yet they keep the audience absorbed throughout. The performers dance in perfect sync with one another, interpretive movements providing direct representation of the words heard by the audience. They are skilful dancers; the way they move across the stage and their use of facial expression is clever. For almost the entire hour, they keep moving to reject conformity and shame: two transgender bodies twisting, spinning, strained, responding to a range of emotions. Ultimately the performance conveys just how exhausting and frustrating it is for trans people living in a cis world.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The show explores the impact of the cisgender gaze on trans in a very accessible way. It’s a very honest and brave insight of the battles trans people have on a daily basis, not just in nightclubs, but in their everyday lives. Our performers convey the mass of complex emotions experienced, but ultimately express passion and joy in being happy with who they are as trans people. I feel that this is a really important performance that cis and trans people should all go to see.