JOYCE MCMILLAN on LOOK MUMMY, I’M DANCING (Vanessa @ Tramway, Glasgow) for The Scotsman 21.4.09
4 stars ****
IN THE 1940’S, SHE was born a boy. In the 1970’s, she became “Belgium’s first transsexual”. And today, she’s a good-looking 61-year-old actress, reflecting in her solo show on the life she has lived, and on the pain of a childhood spent trapped on the wrong side of the gender divide; a pain that also affected her loving parents, struggling in their different ways to cope with the truth.
The theatrical style Vanessa Van Durme uses, in her 90-minute monologue, could hardly be simpler. She wears a simple pink slip; she moves around a stage furnished only with a table and two chairs, and two large old-fashioned dolls, one male, one female. And if there are wider issues about transsexuality to be addressed, Vanessa approaches them only indirectly; there’s no meditation here on why transsexual motifs now feature so widely in some areas of our culture.
But whether the story of Vanessa’s transsexual life simply represents the newly-found voice of a long-silenced minority – or works as a metaphor for the long and often painful journey towards the truth of ourselves that so many of us have to make – it leads us through some brutal and bloody territory, both physical and social, without once losing its rare combination of frankness and grace. And in the end, there’s no resisting the mixture of sharp intelligence, raunchy humour, and inner sweetness of spirit that makes Vanessa such a compelling performer; and brings her story to a memorably calm and healing conclusion, full of love.