“Specie”

at Pleasance Dome, Wednesday 7th August 2013

*Originally written for Culture Wars*

*Quick bit of housekeeping: I went to university with some of the people involved in this show and know them pretty well. But that doesn’t change my feelings about the show as I’d be able to tell them if I thought it was pants. Which it’s not*

How much choice do we have over our own lives? There are many things we can change about ourselves, but there’s one thing which is prescribed from birth and which we can only change through a long and complex process: our sex. In Specie, people can change their sexual organs at will, creating a whole new understanding of gender. In FatGit Theatre’s production, the idea of choice is celebrated in a production which doesn’t try and move too fast, allowing us to take it all in.

The story (penned by Joe White) spans a good couple of decades, telling the story of how a young girl (Lily) became a boy (Louis) at the choice of his parents, who wanted to give him the “best start in life”. Alongside this main narrative, we also see a selection of meetings of New People Anonymous, all of whom have changed their sex a number of times, meaning we experience both the public and personal ramifications of this new world.

Funnily enough, despite the plot, it’s not really a play ‘about’ gender. Sure, gender features and White’s text sees a few discussions about biology, but in fact Specie touches more on choice and personal agency than anything else. Perhaps, it suggests, in a world which seemingly features too much choice, we are forgetting that there are a few things we have absolutely no say over. A gloriously uplifting ending, complete with multi-coloured balls, subverts all this.

FatGit have matured with this show, which moves away a little from the grotesquery explored in earlier shows and instead allows the piece to speak for itself, only adding in more absurd gestures here and there (snappy scene changes and lampshades on heads, for example). The performances are all searingly honest, though there is a knowingness of performance which stops them being too earnest. Shubham Saraf as the lead role is perfectly understated, meaning his moments of outrage become all the more effective.

With a funk-driven soundtrack and plenty of laughs, Specie is a show which makes its point with ease and a lightness of touch. The final monologue teaches us to tell stories in order to give hope – a running theme at this year’s Fringe – and with a wacky but completely beautiful closing image, you want to go out and spin tales forever, if only to make the world a little bit better.

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