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The Poetry We Make review at Vaults, London – ‘intriguing, but underdeveloped’

Mia Hall in The Poetry We Make at Vault Festival, London Mia Hall in The Poetry We Make at Vault Festival, London. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

Elliott and Robin were in a relationship for four years. It didn’t last but they had some good times. Now Robin is exploring his gender identity – and might well be a she – and Elliott finds herself struggling with the idea that the person she loved is transitioning – does that invalidate their entire relationship? Does that cancel out years of intimacy, sexual pleasure and companionship?

This is the complicated emotional terrain that Jaswinder Blackwell-Pal’s play, The Poetry We Make, explores, but it does it predominately through Elliott’s eyes. Though Elijah W Harris gives a sensitive and nuanced performance as Robin, it’s very much a secondary role – Elena Voce’s Elliott sits at the centre of the play.

Though the production acknowledges the fact that this is a story about the trans experience told from its periphery, this doesn’t stop it from feeling awkward at times – Jon Brittain’s Rotterdam dealt with similar subject matter in a more dramatically satisfying way.

But Edwina Strobl’s production has real warmth and there’s an endearing performance from Mia Hall as Dolly Parton (Elliott feels an affinity with the mighty Dolly).

Blackwell-Pal’s play touches on ideas of image and the costumes we all wear, as well as the complexities of dating in a time when people are more open to the concept of gender fluidity, but it feels in need of development. It does, however, include one of the better cunnilingus scenes – hell, probably the only cunnilingus scene – you’re likely to see in the Vaults this year.

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Intriguing, if underdeveloped, play about relationships, gender complexity and the magnificence of Dolly Parton