So where do all the tomboys go? Rife and proud in
pre-pubescence, somewhere down the line, it seems, they are
systematically transmogrified to fit social expectations of
"femininity." And, as Tomboy Blues - The Theory of
Disappointment explores, all those formerly tree-climbing,
Spiderman trainer-wearing scruffians are contorted to fit into high
heels and pencil skirts and generic figures of 'womanliness'.
The stage is strewn with boxes labelled with names - it turns
out they are names of women who have defied or overstepped the
bounds of conventional femininity for various reasons - Missy
Elliot, Amelia Earhart, Caster Semenya and, yes, Rachel Mars and
nat tarrab. The idea behind this set, coupled with a powerful story
about a woman frantically ripping labels off tins in a supermarket,
point towards the problems of identity - of being forced into boxes
in which you just don't fit.
Deeply personal memories of childhood games, family affairs and
humiliating experiences of being questioned about your sex in a
toilet, intertwine with lectures on love and disappointment, while
scathing parodies of attempts to explain gender roles through
science, meet stunning figurative anecdotes: in a dark and
disturbing encounter, a formidable red-lipped high-heeled scientist
force-feeds a transgressive female subject a tin of tuna while
ordering her to recite various names for female genitalia.
The script is witty and elegant; poetic and poignant;
subtle and double-edged. The mime, much in the way of the French
mime impresario Jacques Lecoq, is so powerful that it enables the
two 'tomboys' to literally embody the discomforts and social
pressures of gender, as they attempt to dance awkwardly in dresses,
or scrape away their clothes, their skin, their female body
- we're never quite sure.
The themes of love and relationships, which weave in and around
issues of identity, are bittersweet explorations of loving and
being loved, when you cannot feel comfortable in your body.
Statements about patriarchal power and the empowering aspects of
masculine gender associations are frequently turned over - and
criticised as a gender imbalance. Some see the very conflation of
masculinity with power by tomboys as problematic for its very
abandonment of female empowerment. But rather than buy into a
straightforward binary (Mars and tarrab claim that even the word
'butch' is too binary for them) the pair opt for a more nuanced and
varied range of genders, as they amusingly accuse each other of not
being 'real tomboys' as Mars has long thick curly hair, while
tarrab's pink lacy underpants peep over the waistline of her baggy
Rather cleverly, Mars and tarrab resist assumptions of
sexuality, as the two characters' sexual orientation remains
ambiguous - they are quick to dismiss stereotypical thoughts which
suggest that all tomboys must be lesbians, and vice versa, that all
femme's must be straight. Centrally, Tomboy Blues calls for an
acceptance of a variety of gendered roles and identities within the
For some it may seem that the package is past it's sell-by date;
the premise of the pressure of femininity is hackneyed, the
explorations of 'what to name our lady bits' has been covered by
the likes of Eve Ensler and Caitlin Moran; and the binaries of
butch/femme and male/female is overly simplistic. Yet, Rachel Mars
and nat tarrab succeed in drawing out such subtle folds of the
arguments at stake that the ultimate experience, despite being 'The
Theory of Disappointment', is far from disappointing.
Tomboy Blues - The Theory of Disappointment (scroll
down for trailer)
Written and performed by Rachel Mars and nat
This play is part of the Lady-Led season at Oval
House Theatre, Kennington, London
Tue 1 Nov - Sat 19 Nov, 8:00pm
No performances Sundays or
BSL described 17 November.
Audio-described 18 November.