By Darby Turnbull
One of them ones by UK playwright and actor Charlie Josephine is a piece about how to have a hard conversation and how high the stakes are when through the conversation your perception of the person will irrecoverably change and how that’s necessary albeit exhausting work. Frankie, a young trans masc person is trying to assert their gender identity to their beloved older brother Michael who is, with hostile abstinence, resisting engagement.
Charlie Josephine’s play is thoroughly good natured and compassionate, and Gavin Roach’s play reflects this, though structurally it’s a bit of a mess. It’s educational certainly and I think it’d be a wonderful play to tour schools and a useful aid to have tense conversations around gender, but the reality is it’s a rare school that would allow that conversation to happen in the first place. However the script is often repetitive without offering much additional insight, Josephine has a tendency somewhat overwrite (from my point of view) where brevity would make their point more emotionally palpable for example here are several long monologues that feel more like writerly flourishes that could benefit from some careful editing to enhance emotional impact.
Jahla Black (Frankie) and Asher Griffith-Jones (Michael) are a wonderful double act with an enthusiastic comraderie and genuine joy in each other’s company. What sets this play apart is Josephine’s willingness and adeptness at exploring this conversation from a working-class lens. Frankie, a student has been somewhat liberated by access to a broader vocabulary around sex and gender which baffles Michael, who it’s revealed feels he’s being talked down to. Michael has internalized the world’s cruelty to him, an overworked housepainter and projects a lot of that pain onto Frankie. How could he? (he says) be as privileged as Frankie says he is. Asher Griffith-Jones has tremendous emotional presence and the ability to exhibit the darker, more painful parts of Michaels anger at various levels throughout the piece Jahla Black by contrast is thoughtful and gentle and shows Frankie’s very real pain and frustration against the jubilance in expressing their masculinity in an organic way; a masculinity emulated from their brother but has less to play in terms of emotional range. A late play revelation that makes Frankie see Michael in a new way is quickly moved on from as a new thread of conflict and tension that gives Frankie some recognisable flaws is diminished. Michael’s cruelty is deeply recognisable and specific but so is his warmth and there’s a nice thread of the ego attached to loving someone.
Frankie’s youth give them a tunnel visioned certainty that I feel could have been explored with more nuance. Because for the most part, the tension is whether Michael will get on their level and actually expand his focus to see them and the shades that are suggested but underexplored could make for a more compelling piece.