Tonight I left the Gryphon feeling elevated, empowered, and incredibly proud to identify as queer. Jessica McKerlie performs their one-person show, Gender Spanner, with relatable comedy, stunning metaphors, and brutal, vulnerable honesty. The performance is based on both societal pressures and McKerlie’s personal experience, and is highly entertaining.
Upon entering the theatre McKerlie greets us individually, asking an irrelevant question and offering a post-it sporting a phrase or word. These are our labels for the evening, and I am intrigued by how varied they are. I feel proud to wear ‘Kind Hearted’ on my chest, but also a jealous that I am not given ‘Queer’ or something more exciting.
McKerlie enters the stage to a remixed version of ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ wearing a straightjacket. Dancing their way out of it is complete fun, and we ‘oooh’ in support, a sign of how investment in the show. After fully undressing, we listen to the first song on a ukulele, a light tune about gender issues and feminist issues, and how they relate to our experiences. The song is conversational and sweet, but delivers some strong messages about the relationship between the topics. It is perfect, hilarious, and engaging.
The next moment is one of storytelling. It is a heart-string-pulling story about the way gender and sexuality is often seen as one, despite the knowledge that one does not dictate the other. This is our first insight into the real themes of the show, the labels that we are given, and live by. I find myself nodding along, glad that this topic is being brought to the stage.
When McKerlie returns they are wearing an outfit straight out of The Stepford Wives. McKerlie walks slowly and purposefully through the audience, singing a soulful song and delivering a cocktail sausage to each person. Back onstage they recite a monologue describing the self-destructive behaviour that can occur in relationships, even in mundane ways such as not having enough money for the bus. They continue to move about the stage, and each action seems highlighting the idea that a woman’s worth is often shown by her relationship to man. However, McKerlie flips that power dynamic by taking complete control over the scene, and it is so satisfying to see, since it is a middle finger in the face of patriarchy.
As a self-proclaimed segway, McKerlie talks us through a story of toxic masculinity. It is a story from their own past, and is simple yet touching. The next song is my favourite section of the night, as we watch one of the best dances about menstruation I have ever seen. I would also love to commend the Gender Spanner team for using blood that really resembles that of a period, as it is brown and gloopy, instead of the neat, bright red that is often shown. It makes me wish this is how tampons were advertised.
Another special moment of the night is McKerlie’s performance of a love song. The song is directed to a trans woman named Gabriel, and is both heartfelt and moving. McKerlie sings of their time together with a nostalgic sweetness, and although it is perhaps not as political as other moments, it is intrinsic to the show and understanding their character.
The finale of the work is the explanation of the post-its we received on the way in. It is a poignant message about the detrimental effects of labelling others, and an encouragement to be better than that in our own lives. It is a message that is incredibly important, and it fills me with pride as I watch McKerlie deliver the ideas in a attainable and enjoyable way.
Overall, the show is powerful, exciting, and holds my attention and emotions throughout. McKerlie is continuing to tour to the Adelaide Fringe, and then Fringe World in Perth, and I don’t think I can recommend this show enough. Whether you identify as cisgendered, non-binary, intersex, trans, queer, gay, bisexual, heterosexual, asexual, or whether you choose to not identify yourself with any of those terms, this show is for you. Gender Spanner is the ideal feminist work about sexuality and gender that will forever belong in Fringe Festivals around the globe.
Gender Spanner will be performed until the 22nd February at 9pm at the Gryphon Theatre.
To read more about the Gender Spanner tour, head to Jessica McKerlie’s website.