Saturday, February 18, 2012

Boy in a Dress by LaJohn Joseph

My nephew came over yesterday to do work experience with me; we sat in the kitchen at the computer, puzzling away at Logic and adding backing vocals to one of Shippy's tracks, playing with reverbs, equalization and stereo. I showed him how to edit and how to loop. We exhausted ourselves. As McSis came to collect him, Gina phoned and invited me to the Oval House, just next to the Cricket Ground in South London, to see Boy in a Dress, an autobiographical play by LaJohn Joseph. It sounded like the perfect antidote to a week of hard work and I put on my best skirt and hoofed it to the tube, armed with a copy of No Logo by Naomi Klein, which I have been reading as I'm doing a lecture on branding this coming week.
I recognised LaJohn as being one of the Teaists, a group of artists, musicians and flaneurs who met up every so often for tea in fancy places. I had taken tea with them at the Wallace Collection (postings passim) and was looking forward to seeing what LaJohn did apart from taking tea!
Gina's cousin, Sarah Chew, has directed it and we said hello before the start. The Oval House is a modern and inclusive venue. In spite of living literally five minutes down the road for thirteen years, I only think I have ever been there once before. London has so many layers of activity and the venue is indentified with queer theatrical performance rather than music; at the time of living in the area I was either a musician on tour, or a Mum. I never even went to the Oval cricket matches (the ground is just opposite), even though as a sometimes-unemployed resident I would have qualified for free tickets. But I digress.

LaJohn has a remarkable twinkling cap of red hair, celebrated throughout the performance with red sequinned gowns, a red tracksuit and even a bright red cocktail- all the things you are supposed to avoid if you have red hair. She told us harrowing tales about her childhood- her four 'fathers', one of who was caught with his trousers down just about to do something horrible to next-doors' six year old child, and another of whom smashed everything breakable in the house with a hammer when LaJohn intervened by getting a neighbour to prevent the husband from smashing his mum with it. From early childhood, LaJohn was mistaken for a girl, and she described her child's habit of gendering everything: a cat as a girl, a dog as a boy, forks as a girl, knives as a boy, and a spoon... that was LaJohn herself, in between an knife and fork, with a space of her own.
There were songs, played with aplomb by Jordan Hunt (one of the Irrepressibles), and Anna Lewenhaupt performed roles as diverse as a transvestite man, a party girl and a scene-changer, chalking on the floor or painting LaJohn with thick blue paint, spray painting around him and chalking a New York skyline on the scenery, emerging from a wardrobe whenever she was needed.
There were stories that made some of the audience laugh (wry wit can mask a lot of pain). I couldn't laugh, but I found the stories mesmerising, as many stories of survival against the odds are. I am so glad that she has made such a vibrant and entertaining show from her life: we need to hear about the different routes that people take from there to here, all the many different ways of being alive and yes, surviving.
Afterwards, we all applauded loudly and sincerely. I left feeling energised and full of appreciation for right here and now. Thank you, LaJohn, for a fabulous evening!
(I think it's on for the next two weeks, starting at 8 p.m. See

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