The Butch Monologues review at Theatre Royal Stratford East, London – ‘funny and frank’
Dapper style, disillusion, desire, a dildo in the filing cabinet – The Butch Monologues explores different aspects of queer experience and gender rebellion in poignant and humorous style. A collaboration that began back in 2012 between writer Laura Bridgeman, director Julie McNamara and private members’ club the Drakes, The Butch Monologues is an ongoing project of curation and performance, of theatrical testimony.
The stories we hear are taken from interviews with butches, masculine women and transmen from across the world. They’re delivered by a changing roster of performers from within the Drakes club, some of whom have stage experience and some of whom do not. This gives the show its effectively direct, demotic style – the monologues aren’t memorised as part of a polished actorly product. Instead this is theatre as a forum for understanding, respect and visibility that enables voices from outside the mainstream to be heard and celebrated.
Bridgeman’s skilful editing renders the monologues pacey and succinct, successfully shifting between tones and geographies. Nonetheless, rich themes emerge, from masochism to mental health.
There are riffs on the “typical” butch/femme dynamic. Some find a confessional vulnerability, articulating the sense that butchness and its attendant expectations of undemonstrative strength sometimes “feel like a prison.”
One winning and witty monologue likens the butch/femme relationship and its political import to “outreach work without getting paid.” While some voices (including a self-styled Little Napoleon) unashamedly exalt in displays of direct masculine energy, others defiantly express their gender identity as existing in a liminal space.