You've Changed

theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
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You've Changed
Published 09 Aug 2017

2003 feels like it was about five minutes ago to this reviewer. So when Kate O'Donnell opens her solo show by claiming that it was basically the 1930s back then, it seems like a bit of a stretch. But she's talking about trans rights, not typewriters or tapdancing. Channelling Fred Astaire's suave style, she talks us through her struggles to transition in a world that was still stuck on retro gender stereotypes.

O'Donnell is endlessly watchable, illustrating her warts-and-all stories with immaculately smooth hand gestures. With wry humour, she charts her journey from abused child to gay man to stereotypical blonde bombshell to her present self, confidently queer in a blue buzzcut. It was a pioneering ride, taking in rogue doctors and a Thai surgeon who gave her a whole book of vaginas to choose from.

There's an unexplored irony in the way that O'Donnell spends so much time bemoaning peoples’ prurient interest in trans people's genitals, then utterly gives into it with a surreal segment where her vulva gets an airing, framed by tiny red velvet curtains. She toys with the idea that trans people might as well exploit the world's interest in them, but the comparisons she draws between herself and exoticised cabaret icons Josephine Baker and Carmen Miranda don't quite ring true: she has a level of freedom that a racist society never allowed them.

Elsewhere, her analysis is sharper. Moving deftly from radical feminism to swinging song-and-dance numbers, O'Donnell proves that she deserves roles which transcend her autobiography.