Review of play: 52 Monologues for Young Transsexuals

Charli Cowgill and Jack Ward’s promotional material for the show
– The Gingham Pampers

About the event

‘I want this to be a validating experience for you. God, your body is fascinating.’ 

52 Monologues for Young Transsexuals will not be a validating experience for you. In this devised two-woman comedy show, we will take you on a journey from Germaine Greer to Jouissance, from Barbara Streisand to BDSM. Documenting our experiences of love, sex and intimacy as trans women, 52 Monologues promises to be outrageous, confronting and honest.

This performance is recommended for audiences aged 18+

From the theatre website’s blurb

Content warning

The play came with the content warning below, which made it sound a lot more exciting than it actually was.

staging of:
– a non-consensual sex-act
– simulated sex
– partial nudity
– simulated birthing

use of:
– strobe lighting
– materials/liquids which may affect severely asthmatic audience members (hairspray, talcum powder)
– bodily fluids on stage
– transphobic slurs
– homophobic slurs
– flashing images

discussion of:
– sex (including kink and BDSM)
– discrimination (including transphobia, misgendering and misogyny)
– infantilisation
– paedophilia (only ever implied – never explicitly discussed)
– infertility
– pregnancy

mention of:
– murder
– drug and alcohol mis(use)
– sex work
– (very fleeting mention of) child abuse

the content warning for the show from ADC’s website

About the theatre

The play was staged at the ADC Theatre, ‘the smallest department of Cambridge University’, run by students with almost no faculty involvement, according to its website. It’s across the way from the prestigious King’s College. The theatre encourages patrons to wear masks to protect themselves from coronavirus. Encouragement rather undermined by Charli collecting spit from audience members into a cup on entry into the theatre space, later to be thrown over him by Jack.

About the performers

Charli Cowgill and Jack Ward wrote and performed 52 Monologues for Young Transsexuals and are both students at Cambridge University.

Before it started

Whilst Charli covered the door, wrangling as much audience spit possible into a small clear plastic cup, Jack paraded up and down the stage floor with a slay bitch queen attitude, which had more of a Partridge aesthetic to it than he will ever know.

Charli wore only skimpy lingerie, bra barely covering his ‘titty skittles’, ditto for the knickers covering his cock and balls (he clearly isn’t a ‘tucker’). Jack had his flat chest fully exposed wearing a leather kink outfit. He too is not a ‘tucker’. These are important facts for the political diarrhoea we were sprayed with throughout the show and proof that neither of them have gender dysphoria (not that I know that they claim to have such a thing).

Straightforward drag act

Charli and Jack basically spent a lot of their time shaking their arses and ‘being sexy’ with the accompaniment of techno beat music (I believe the lyric was Wet Ass Pussy). Next we’ll be hearing that they’re doing Drag Story Hour or something.

On identity 

After the first of a million arse-shakes, was the first ten minutes or so of impenetrable dialogue in which they inhabited different characters (I’m assuming the changes in accent signified as much, it went from Welsh to West Indian to generic European, sometimes all in the same sentence). Thus, this was the formula for the entire performance: illogical statements mouthed by characters we didn’t recognise, interspersed with arse shaking and dry humping and pedantic pornographic description.   Sometimes things were even thrown, like eggs or the collected spit, which was very exciting.

An example of the bad dialogue: Both are scared of being associated with drag queens.  They’re not drag queens, they’re trans women.  No cis woman will ever have to wake up in the morning and push her testicles up into her inguinal space and then tape her cock down. (I fucking hope not.)  Charli doesn’t want to look like cis women, he just wants to look good.  Jack just wants ‘women’ to get along.  I can look better than real women, Charli told us. And on and on it went.

Another literal example:

When I’m having sex, I love to feel like a woman. Sometimes I don’t want to feel like a woman when I’m having sex. Sometimes I wanna be a woman, sometimes I don’t wanna be, and that’s such a tricky thing to navigate when you’re dealing with these men, who are, you know, used to, or even exclusively attracted to women.

Precocious dialogue uttered by Jack

Weirdly the absolute worst bit of the whole play was when they left the stage (you might assume this would bring relief) and then miked a conversation off stage between two female torso mannequins on chairs. It felt like. Forever.

Simulated sex and BDSM

The first instance was with Charli on top pretending to penetrate Jack.  There was dry humping of the floor. Fetish gear like dog collars were worn (they only had one, so had to share).  At one point Charli poured a whole bottle of baby oil over Jack’s face, simulating a ‘cum shot’, and it went into and irritated Jack’s eye. Yes, I did laugh. (I did do quite a lot of laughing actually, at them obviously, not with them.)

Characters and/or Charli and Jack told us only nice positive things about BDSM; that it opened up new possibilities for doing sex differently, that it was a space in which you could be cared for and a practice for bodily awareness, which did feel a bit propaganderish. (I suspect their experience of such things is rather limited, to be honest, given the precocity on display.)

Simulated rape scene at the end

Charli wearing a fetish leather balaclava with strap-on dildo forcibly entered Jack’s mouth. Jack choked on the dildo, crying. Powerful stuff.

Sex talk

The two main recurring themes were that having your cock sucked off makes you feel like a man and that was really bad.  Being made to feel like a woman meant degradation and powerlessness but this was really cool. (Sigh.) This appeared to be some sort of political or psychosexual maxim the ‘characters’ appeared to subscribe to. All very subversive, obviously.

Simulated birthing scene

Charli was in front, in a sort of table top yoga pose, moaning and grunting, whilst Jack was behind, doing the same. I suspect they wanted audience shock, but I’m afraid I laughed like a drain. It was really funny. The sight of them both huffing and puffing away desperately trying to manufacture outrage, little idea how stupid they looked. Once Charli ‘delivered’ we discovered that Jack was his baby. ‘Goo-goo, gaa-gaa,’ said Jack. Hence a perfect excuse for Charli to mount a child’s tricycle and cycle around him, his long ungainly legs spiderish. Oh dear. If they had just done that and kept it five minutes long, I might have given it five stars.

When it finished

A standing ovation with whoops and calls from the students, proving there’s no accounting for taste. Meanwhile I was obviously wondering who would clean up the mixture of egg, baby oil, talcum powder and communal spit off the stage floor and suspected this would be very much a joint effort of the Corpus Room staff, whilst Jack and Charli propped themselves up somewhere, some student digs perhaps, to play the true bar-room bores they clearly are.

Conclusion

This was genuinely the most inept and boring piece of student theatre I have ever seen, and therefore the worst thing I have ever seen. It was ninety minutes long. Ninety minutes. I am not opposed to bad taste art, indeed I have consumed a fair amount of John Waters’ films, Jerry Springer, horror, etc., over the years, but this had no plot, zero characterisation, truly lamentable acting, atrocious accents and was impossible to follow. Travis’s I’m Tired of Waiting is positively Pinteresque in comparison. Worst of all – and I’m judging it on what they set out to do, so am being fair – it wasn’t shocking (or else I am utterly jaded). But I don’t think I sensed the audience were shocked either; they found it mainly amusing (but it wasn’t really that either, I have faithfully polished the turd I’m afraid). You can’t generate shock just by doing a series of shocking things, one after the other. In order to create shock, you have to create characters the audience are invested in and then throw a sucker punch. This was sucker punches all the way down. I’ll give them an Eeeewwww though and a recommendation they watch less pornography.


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