Review: Gender Spanner, Sweet, Edinburgh

Published in Fest on August 6, 2016

Jessica McKerlie is an Australian performance artist, who has experienced various lightbulb moments — usually during sex — about her gender and sexuality. They can be pretty much summed up as: throw off labels, embrace what feels good.

Hardly likely to blow any bulbs for the rest of us perhaps, but then the show, for all its gender theory and body positivism, isn’t structured as any big-reveal journey. It’s more a series of fierce turns: satirising domestic femininity, then manly ruggedness; a terrifically funny straightjacket striptease; a dextrously literal (and gravy-soaked) send-up of the pressure to keep multiple plates spinning.

McKerlie hadn’t quite found her rhythm in the early show I saw, occasionally making the bald, self-exposing hour feel stilted, despite her achingly cool swagger. Given all the unabashed nudity, I wondered why so many costume changes were done behind a sheet. But Gender Spanner should soon tighten its nuts and bolts, and McKerlie is a performer you naturally just really want to get behind.

You need to: this show is indulgently confessional, as self-loathing turns to self-discovery, and angst at conventional relationships turns to feel-good fist-pumps at pegging a man in a glittery dress. There’s also a good deal of that cabaret cliché: the ukulele. If the mere idea of a ditty debating whether body hair is a feminist or gender issue makes your follicles recede in awkwardness, move along. If it makes you want to wave your armpit hair in the air like you just don’t care, Gender Spanner is here for you.

Where next?