At least, at home, we don’t need to worry about the pre-emptive toilet trip. For Overflow‘s protagonist Rosie (Reece Lyons), however, a sassy transgender woman in her 20s, it is a topic far more serious. It is a safety measure, designed to avoid the confrontation which comes from visiting the women’s bathroom in loud and heaving nightclubs. Even as Rosie delivers her monologue, she is regularly interrupted by pounding at the door – someone trying to get in while she is desperately trying to get out of an overwhelming scenario.
Before the coronavirus pandemic forced the Bush to close its doors, playwright Travis Alabanza’s new monologue was performed live during a year in which the UK Government swept aside requests to reform the Gender Recognition Act, the High Court made a devastating ruling on puberty blockers and the debate over access to ‘single sex spaces’ and toilets continued. Overflow focusses on the latter, in an hour-long production which explores “who is allowed in and who is kept out”.
Yet below the surface, this binary becomes far more extensive and intricate in Alabanza’s powerful, visionary script. We not only hear of the violence shown towards trans women by men, but the transphobia displayed by cis women as well. Friendships are examined and true acceptance scrutinised.
“It didn’t feel like a welcome, or a big feminist moment,” says Rosie, in one of the most notable lines of the play, describing the complexities of meaningful allyship with startling simplicity. “It felt like just… Someone opening a door to where you were always meant to go.” Later, Alabanza points to the crux of transmisogyny’s crucial flaw, too: that rather than address the oppression from the patriarchy, transphobes have instead adopted its archaic ideas around womanhood. The arguments made by Alabanza – and stressed in Lyons’ authentic performance – have, of course, been cited before as trans rights continue to be under relentless attack. The aforementioned sass from Lyons’ portrayal is no doubt informed by her own frustration at repeating the same points ad infinitum – all of this taking place in a bathroom which is, at one point, a sanctuary offering solace from the outside world (explored with poignancy in an anecdote about scary movies and the bogeyman) and another, a prison with prying eyes. Trapped between two implausible options and regurgitating the same responses to anti-trans rhetoric, Rosie’s sense of ‘drowning’ is raw, intense and honest.
Although locked in the constraints of a women’s bathroom, Lyons is still able to give a fluid performance as she jumps and morphs into portrayals of friends and PE teachers. Debbie Hannan’s direction is as free-flowing as the water pouring in from the taps, filling up the sink in the corner of Max John’s tiled bathroom set. As levels rise, so too does Rosie’s passion and anger, culminating in a fierce moment of defiance. Busts and mannequins of women loitering on stage are vandalised with Sharpie and chewing gum. One is ripped from its plinth, with Rosie taking its place.
Its symbolism, as with most of the other imagery in Alabanza’s script, is striking. Overflow is a triumphant takedown of transphobia, uplifting trans women and reclaiming the restroom in the process.
Overflow is now streaming online via the Bush Theatre’s website until 23 January.
Production Images: Sharron Wallace.
Disclaimer: I watched Overflow – Online for free in exchange for a review of the production. I did not receive any payment for this review, and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.