FringeReview UK 2017
Directed by Kirsty and Olly Hurd Thomas, this welcome revival reminds of how Jonathan Brown has developed since 2007. Hannah Clark supplies all technical and lighting support.
It’s hard to believe Jonathan Brown’s extraordinary Large Trash Print is his second play, from 2007, and a solo show – his first ensemble piece was The Well, from 2011. But then look what he’s done since.
Directed by Kirsty and Olly Hurd Thomas, this welcome revival reminds of how fine his early hit was too. Hannah Clark supplies all technical and lighting support.
Brown’s protean nature and reputation as one of the most creative theatre-makers on the south coast as writer, actor and director is certainly proved here: not least as reporting second-hand on a woman Maureen playing Proteus as the library his transgender character now back in male garb relates to his unsuspecting son and ex-wife: how moved the former is by this production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Proteus is – well, going in the opposite direction.
It’s set mostly in a library opening to Jenny reading out from trash novels as all the literature’s been ditched. First we’re exposed to the first tableau in an arc of emotional adjustment, rejection, loss and redemption. This is what makes this up-to-the-minute tale of trans experience so heart-warming. In theatre, warmth is news that stays warm. However fashions might render and normalise the experiences here – and they’ve not yet caught up a decade on – this tale of love wit and heartbreak redeemed will never date.
It’s just as well. Brown’s Jenny (née Ian) talks raucously about her male lover unperturbed by discovering her sexual transitioning touching her querty and indeed valleys. There’s fantastical use of the phantom penis, lust for its shadow self and desire as it were going both ways.
Relating how Doctor Slow supports her whilst the inaugurator of American psychiatry, Doctor Rush still stalks nightmares (incarcerating his son, inventing the myth that masturbation renders you mad and blind like syphilis), is touching. The library seduction too is enormous fun.
The second tableau though introduces the terrible rejection of a somewhat heartless-seeming wife, who’s negligent too, and their son Tim. Brown, whose whiplash poses and camp asides belie his towering stature, reverts to other characters in his habitual blink, but here decides on the curious analogue to a foreign voice, a seam I’ve still to explore.
Brown’s register moves from archly comic, sexually raucous through trauma and rejection in a battle to at least see his son. After the interval there’s even more evidence of how that goes, but the great library scene, as a beautiful analogue to Julia’s as disguising herself in Shakespeare’s play, furnishes an early miracle of Brown’s delicacy. In particular the scene of explaining to his unsuspecting ex-wife, hell-bent on giving her – their – son to social services that the boy has just praised her (not true) is touching as well as subversive.
Even more so is Jenny/Ian’s experience of a sexual pass by his own estranged father, naturally thinking he’s after a handsome woman. The redemptive final act, and what happens to Maureen too, is a neat tying-up. Do we believe in the neatness? Why not – this strikes a blow now as it did a decade ago. Brown’s superlative writing and acting is ridiculously confined to this city.