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Boy in a Dress in Oval

BoyindressLa JohnJoseph has led what is best described as colourful life so far. Raised a Catholic in Liverpool by a mother who married five times, producing half brothers and sisters along the way, his pretty looks led to him being mistaken for a girl and a homophobic attack at school running to the public loos for refuge.

From a nearly given-up-for-care experience as a young child to prostitution in New York JohnJoseph takes us on the journey of his life so far with the help of Anna Lewenhaupt and Jordan Hunt on the piano. 

He tells his story through series of film clips, recollections, songs and what can best be described as symbolic re-enactments often utilising a large wardrobe at the back of the performance space.

There are some nice devices to illustrate points in the story such as the floor doubling as a huge chalk board as Lewenhaupt, in this instance playing a school friend, writes out the lines JohnJoseph's class were given: "All homophobic acts are deviant and wrong".

And, the graffiti in the public loo's appears under ultra-violet light giving something crude a magical feel, the magic that JohnJoseph felt about the place that was to become his bunking-school hangout.

JohnJoseph is at his best when he is telling his story rather than some of the theatrical moments which just feel forced and a little bit bizarre. For example, there is a rather odd scene at the end when Lewenkaupt dressed only in socks and white Y-fronts paints a paper-dressed, singing, JohnJoseph with blue paint.

Nonetheless there are some lovely poignant scenes such as when he recounts a rare mother-son bonding moment and it serves well as a vehicle to explore sexual orientation and socities attitude.

There are too many songs for my liking but I'm not one for songs in theatre, so don't judge it on that. It's a little long and I'd be tempted to cut it back to a one act rather than two hours and 15 with an interval. But, at its heart is an interesting story that is in the main told in an interesting and amusing way.

I'm going to give it 3 and a half stars.

Boy In A Dress runs at the charming Ovalhouse Theatre until March 3

Production photograph: Ami Nouvel