Inspired by a Dutch documentary about the last days of a
transvestite cabaret in Barcelona, Gardenia is an invitation to
learn about and reflect on the lives of a similar group of
performers, some transgender, some transvestite, who are now in
their 60s and 70s.
The production opens with Vanessa Van Durme, Belgium's first
transsexual, singing a mournful version of Somewhere over the
rainbow. Van Durme, who is the show's co-director alongside Frank
Van Laeke then invites the audience to stand in memory of those who
are long gone but who once also graced the cabaret club stage.
At this point the cast of nine are dressed in men's suits and
look in the main as if they are cis men, yet Van Durme recants
baudy tales about them, using female names like Juanita who was
apparently the 'queen of blow-jobs' in her day. Up steps a tubby
chap with a receding hairline who looks like he'd be more at home
on the set of The Sopranos. Gradually, moving from the back of the
stage, where the participants adorn themselves in makeup and wigs,
the entire cast morphs from sombre Gilbert and George-esque figures
to camp, colourful female personae.
Over 90 minutes we learn about the traumatic but darkly humorous
lives of this aging community of transvestite and transgender
performers. It's a poignant show with some delightful moments from
the world-famous dance company Les Ballets C de la B but these are
counter-balanced with a peculiar sense of emotional disconnection
from the actors and uncomfortable 'jokes' that suggest internalised
homophobia. One of Van Durme's goes thus: Q: How do you get four
queers to sit on a chair? A: Turn it upside down.
The stories of these individuals, seven of whom are elders,
reveal intimately the joys and hardships of living between genders
at a time when queer was a cuss-word without the defiant meaning it
has taken on today.
Some of the mise-en-scene moments are hilariously executed - an
older man wearing a child-like summer dress posing, without makeup,
strikes exaggerated 'female' poses - yet others seem clichéd. A
tired rendition of a Marlene Dietrich number and other show-tunes
grates, as does the layered musical score with its discordant
organ, loud clock tick-tock and samples of old Liza Minelli
Les ballets C de la B
To Saturday 2 July
Tickets: £10 - £27 from