Review: Kaleidoscope (Theatre21)

theatre21Venue: M2 Gallery (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 19 – 23, 2015
Playwright: Charlie O’Grady
Director: Finn Davis
Cast: Harry Winsome
Image by Alex Smiles

Theatre review
Gabriel is a young trans man who has been transitioning for four years, but who still finds it hard to leave his home for the big wide world in the mornings. On the day of our encounter, he struggles in front of a mirror for 90 minutes, and we witness how difficult it is for him to do the most basic of things; to get dressed and exit his front door. Stories about transgender experiences are not hard to come by, especially at this very point in time, as mainstream consciousness gains awareness of issues surrounding trans people, but Charlie O’Grady’s Kaleidoscope is an articulate and exceptionally insightful expression of the realities of trans youth at our specific day and age. The tale remains one characterised by pain and conflict, but it is an au courant representation of the continual evolution of ideologies and language in the discussion of gender. O’Grady’s script is sensitive, powerful, cerebral, emotional, and very repetitive. It takes pains to describe Gabriel’s entrapment with circular and recurring motifs that can frustrate its audience, but it serves to depict the persistent turbulence that Gabriel goes through with every breath of his life. Early sections of the play are overtly didactic, which is probably helpful for most viewers who are unfamiliar with the climate under examination, although a greater sense of sophistication with tone could make things more palatable.

Staging of the work is straightforward, but excessively so. Gabriel is in his bedroom, speaking into the mirror for over an hour, and virtually nothing changes. The monologue format is a challenging beast, not just for those on stage, but also for an audience that needs more than a fascinating subject, especially when the show runs for more than several minutes. We need definite transformations of scenes so that our senses can stay engaged, and we need to feel clear shifts in the character’s journey so that we can stay connected. Kaleidoscope however, delivers a long and continuous oration that, although very coherent and truthful, often proves to be too unvarying for our attention to stay intimate with. Harry Winsome’s performance is a solid one, and he impresses with the fluency of his lines, never stumbling over the extremely extensive and demanding strands of words. The emotions he conveys can seem intense and forceful, but they rarely translate with sufficient depth and authenticity to captivate; we hear his thoughts objectively, without being able to relate with his sentimentalities truthfully.

Gabriel is at war with the world, and with himself. He thinks that his story is about finding acceptance in the world, but it is clear that the biggest hurdle to his own happiness is himself. On many levels, the play is a universal one. We all come into adulthood with doubt and challenges, and finding permission to live freely is never easy. Gabriel obsesses over his reflection, thinking that it is the gaze of others that oppresses him, but like anyone, he must come to realise that the only affirmation worth receiving is from himself, and until he stops waiting for consent to arrive from without, can he allow his own emancipation to occur.