Four men are dressing in a sweaty men’s locker room at the local gym. For one of them, it’s an intense turning point in his life: Kit Redstone has transitioned to being male, and after a year of testosterone injections, this is his first foray into the all-dude domain.
That’s the very real premise of U.K. writer-performer Redstone’s rollicking, pop-music-and-comedy fuelled Testosterone, a play that looks at masculinity from a unique perspective.
“Before I transitioned I was very androgynous, so I didn’t really get treated like a woman,” explains Redstone, the affable Rhum and Clay Theatre Company artist who’s bringing his Edinburgh Festival Fringe hit to the York Theatre here, speaking over the phone from late-night London. “So for me, transitioning, rather than changing gender, felt more like becoming an adult. Having existed in this Peter Pan androgynous world, I was then very firmly positioned in a man’s world, and being treated like sort of a man’s man, and not really knowing or understanding that dynamic.”
For the upbeat Redstone, having fun with one of his most excruciating moments came naturally. “A lot of narratives about transition focus on pretransition and making the decision to do that. And that in a way bored me: ‘Oh, I’m trans and no one’s accepting me; poor me.’ I personally have no interest in writing about those aspects of transition,” he says. “When you deal with a subject like being transgender, people think it will be very serious and a little bit dry and that the audience is going to get preached to. I really wanted it to be a show where I could laugh at myself and the audience could laugh with me, rather than me telling them how to think.”
It’s not just laughter that Redstone and his team use to tell the story, based on a true incident that happened when the performer was 33. Rhum and Clay infuses the show with music, dancing, and a generous sprinkling of fantasy sequences—sometimes imagining the other guys in the gym as everything from swaggering cowboys to preening mafia bosses. A drag disco diva even bursts into the action.
“That’s the beauty of the power of art: you can tell a story that people can relate to in an everyday sense, and then you can add magic,” Redstone says. “The show is mostly about stuff that goes on in my head—so the naturalistic is about five minutes of the work. Everything else is memory and fantasy.”
Many reviews have praised Redstone for his bravery and noted how much the audience gets behind him over the course of Testosterone—roaring their support by the end of his increasingly tense situation. But Redstone doesn’t really see revealing his innermost fears and his private journey into manhood as an act of courage.
“If anything it feels almost like it’s therapeutic, because our show is very fun and joyous. It has some dark parts, but for the most part it’s a comedy,” he reflects, “so that when it gets to the end, when it is more hard-hitting and literally very exposing, I feel like the audience is my friend at that point.”
His entry into the male world has gotten more comfortable, too, he says, as he’s negotiated new codes and languages of masculinity—and found an endearing vulnerability there that he never noticed before. “Before, I found men very threatening. When people don’t know your gender, people can be… Aggressive to you,” he says. “And suddenly I just became this normal bloke.”
Testosterone runs at the York Theatre from Tuesday (October 2) to October 13.