Fresh from a successful run at this year’s VAULT Festival, Tatenda Shamiso’s fun and blissful play NO I.D. transfers to the Royal Court Theatre. Against a backdrop of towering cardboard boxes, Shamiso talks us and an unsuspecting call handler named Andrew through his gender transition with tenderness and humour.
That’s despite the process to change gender coming with a required diagnosis of gender dysphoria, shocking NHS waiting lists and even an more outrageous private price tag – therefore making the task incredibly bureaucratic, and far from easy.
Even so, Shamiso is a playful protagonist, vibing along to hold music (I mean, don’t we all), proudly showing off his (lack of) muscles on testosterone, and asking one member of the audience to zip and unzip his dress. In keeping with the themes of the show, Shamiso and director Sean Ting-Hsuan Wang defy the traditions of theatre and a ‘trans play’. The actor poses on the sofa to saxophone melodies when we come to the ‘trauma porn’ part of the show, refusing to elaborate further on his relationship with his father. He breaks the fourth wall by addressing us directly, uses boxes to mix up genders, and tarnishes the set with heaps of paperwork in pure – and thrilling – chaos.
Though in amongst the mess, there is gorgeous clarity. Alongside the main monologue, Shamiso adds in a few songs penned pre-transition as Thandie, and the smooth vibrato of Tatenda harmonising with her vocals is a stunning artistic decision which further confirms we are in the presence of a trans man who is as at peace with his pre-transition self as he is with himself now. When a collage is projected on a screen of pictures of Thandie, and how she ‘brightened’ up a room, Tatenda goes to turn on the lamp next to the sofa centre stage. Just a coincidence, perhaps, but nonetheless a nice touch in this comforting production.
Shamiso’s examination and reflection on gender roles is refreshing and enlightening – Shamiso notes, for example, that the lessons learned as a man come automatically as a woman – and while deadnames and pre-transition can be triggering to some, the actor approaches the subject with care, curiosity and a desire for growth. Thandie is not someone to be discarded, but someone who came with important life lessons and values which have shaped Tatenda as the person we see in the auditorium.
There is a way to for him to gently embrace what came before, and it’s emotional – not least because, as Shamiso notes himself – trans people are often denied that right to self-reflect due to transphobic biological essentialism. When they are afforded the space to explore all of their feelings safely, then there is a capacity for immense trans joy and gender euphoria, as in on display here.
With charming warmth, Shamiso finds comfort in himself, his trans identity and who he was pre-transition. It’s magical, and as the whole play proves (not least in its conclusion) such beauty is hard to summarise on a paper form.
NO I.D. is now playing at the Royal Court Theatre until 6 May. A captioned performance will take place on 5 May.
Production Images: Marc Brenner.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘NO I.D.’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.