Comedy is built on the back of tension and ease. This concept is not new: Hannah Gadsby legendarily pulled back the curtain in her 2018 comedy special Nannette, describing the tedious act of compounding her traumas as a queer Australian into bite sized, manageable jokes that soothe the audience.
Your job, as a performer, is to pull the audience in, create tension, then release it for a sense of euphoria. Now imagine carrying that tension with you every second of every day. You aren’t a comedian. You aren’t a performer. No, you’re just someone living as visibly gender non-conforming.
Lu Bradshaw’s biting new show Comfort, Spin, Travel details the semi-autobiographical experience of navigating the world as a transgender person. The Performer (Hadrian Conyngham) visits an Officeworks late at night on a Tuesday and plays a game they developed in childhood with their sister. A test of sorts, Comfort, Spin, Travel is a set of criteria used to determine if a wheelie chair is worth buying.
But what if, for a night, our lives were measured with this set of rules? What if a trans person’s worth was determined by their ability to spin their own identity, travel across gender norms without being too provocative, and comfort those around them experiencing the change?
Conyngham is phenomenal in this role, humorous, sincere, and engaging. They carry the entire show on their back, probably sore from hours of rigorous wheelie chair testing.
Props must be given to Rachel Seeto as Worker, for their ability to remain on stage and make you feel like there’s truly an Officeworks employee just floating around doing stocktake.
The staging was minimal but purposeful – three chairs, boxes, and an Officeworks sign which, whilst clearly not official, was definitely made with things you could buy at Officeworks. The audience engagement was exciting too, just enough to keep you on your toes.
The Performer has a phone which continually rings onstage. It’s indicative of the chronically online, terminally contactable reality of our young queer community; that to be truly queer you must know the complete ins and outs of every single queer identity and its history, culture, and legal standing. Mostly, I was impressed that they found a ringtone which didn’t make me want to snap the phone in half with my bare hands.
I am not approaching this as a trans person, but as a visibly gender non-conforming queer individual, nothing hit a nerve for me like the concept of coming out for other people. Coming out for your own sense of peace, sure, but coming out so maybe someone around you who doesn’t have anyone to look up to can see you and feel seen. Identifying a burden as something you’re “willing” to carry doesn’t make it less of a burden. It is exhilarating to see this tension represented on stage.
This isn’t a comedy show. It’s funny, but at the core of Conyngham’s performance and Bradshaw’s writing is a deep-seated anger at the expectations placed on trans people. Be educational, be open to any questions anyone ever asks, but don’t bring the mood down. The anger flashes at times in the Performer while they’re spinning in a wheelie chair, and at the end of the performance you are situated within it.
It is very purposeful that one of the Performer’s last lines is “you’re welcome.”
It is powerful and exposing, to carry the weight this individual holds every day.
Maybe, if you’re trying to be a trans ally, stop asking your trans friends to educate you for a while. Maybe they need you to hold some of the burden of being visible in your hands for them instead.
Oh! And for the sake of the show, here is my audience chair efficacy test:
Comfort: It was a cushioned metal chair held on a rack with five others. 6/10
Spin: The chair was locked in place. 0/10
Travel: There were two flights of stairs, but a whimsical speakeasy and sneak peak at the goods on offer at Meraki Arts Bar’s other shows made the journey titillating. 8/10
Total: 5/10. At least the show was fantastic.
You can catch Comfort Spin Travel, presented during World Pride, at Meraki Arts Bar till the 11th of March.