Tuesdays at Tescos (Three Minute Theatre, Manchester)
The play is good, but the film preceding it is unnecessary, says David Cunningham.
Tuesdays at Tescos presents a re-affirmation by a transsexual of her sense of true identity, but opens in a cautious manner.
The monologue is preceded by a 30 minute filmed documentary in which three transsexuals from the Manchester area describe their experiences leading up to the decision to change sex. This acts as a kind of prequel to the monologue but, being dropped unannounced on the audience who expect live theatre, feels a bit like propaganda.
Director Sue Womersley makes much more effective use of filmed images for the opening of the actual monologue. To evocative background music from The Cocteau Twins, gorgeous black and white images of cities and countryside flicker past, giving the sense of a journey and even a regression.
It is easy for adults to slip back to childhood when confronted by their parents, but this is not a habit in which transsexual Pauline (sole performer Scott Kentell) can indulge. After the death of her mother, Pauline makes a weekly visit helping her increasingly frail father with housework and shopping. But Pauline's father has never accepted her true identity and constantly undermines her sense of self by using her former name ‘Paul'.
Matthew Hurt and Sarah Vermande achieve a seamless translation of Emmanuel Darley's Le Mardi a Monoprix with only the single word "chambermaid" sounding continental rather than English. Darley's play is less about the big decision to change sex and more concerned with the consequences of having to constantly re-affirm that choice and remain true to one's sense of self.
The conflict between generations gives the play a wider appeal, as most people with be able to relate to Pauline's dutiful need to help a parent (although hopefully not one as ungrateful and ungracious as Pauline's), whilst at the same time dreading what the process might actually involve. The irony that the male child of an obvious misogynist would become female is gently underlined.
Womersley catches the stifling claustrophobia of a situation in which the smallest of slights and least victories can have a disproportionate impact. She is helped by a splendidly empathic and dignified performance from Kentell. The stately bearing adopted by Kentell makes the tight scarlet dress and high heels worn by Pauline proudly feminine rather than shamelessly brazen. Kentell avoids a clichéd high-pitched voice instead adopting a gentle crooning tone of a parent speaking to a child.
Kentell subtly conveys the strain that Pauline endures coping with daily irritants such as staring passers-by and overheard comments. There is an edge of desperation with Pauline using phrases like "true self" as a litany to remind herself of the need for patience and endurance. Kentell may strike a dignified figure, but he shows a brittle self-defensiveness underneath.
At times Pauline's regal stance comes close to flinching against an anticipated blow. The personal cost of Pauline's choice is gently brought out in a sequence where she acknowledges that pleasures most of us take for granted – being able to gossip with an old school friend - are, for her, not an option.
Pauline becomes an heroic figure accepting the consequences that her decision will involve constant battles, yet making clear that, no matter how wearying the process, she does not regret her choice. Because, for her, there really was no other option.
Tuesdays at Tescos is at the Three Minute Theatre until 17 May.