Words: John Brooks
When a frightened Emma Frankland runs onto the stage at the beginning of Hearty, the threat of danger is palpable — and it doesn’t let up.
Playing a persecuted biotech hybrid, with wings made of knives and a long dragging tail, Frankland introduces us to a collapsing world of violence, censorship and data harvesting. It is a heightened reflection of a society not so different from our own.
Hearty is a repetitive, compressed and unnerving piece, the fifth and final chapter in None of Us is Yet a Robot, a series of works exploring the politics of trans identity alongside the artist's gender transition.
Frankland gives a powerful central performance in which she loosely repeats the same cycle of actions and speeches, each time with small variations. Instead of losing audience interest, the repetition communicates a claustrophobic sense of panic, of time running out, of the struggle to escape the cycles of violence that characterise trans history.
So how can we escape these cycles? The show offers no easy answers. ‘Hearty Sisterhood’ is stencilled across a series of disjointed wooden boards at the back of the stage (‘Hearty’ = ‘HRT’, short for ‘Hormone Replacement Therapy’).
In the shows closing moments, Frankland uses these boards to quite literally build a shelter for herself, a home at the end of the world. It is tempting to think that members of her audience might also recognise a home, of sorts, in Frankland’s work.
But what about those of us outside of the trans experience? In a touching section, Frankland enters the audience. Looking each person in the eyes, she asks “Please don’t hurt me.” It is a striking way of highlighting the individual responsibility we each have to protect those who are different from us.
If this sounds pleading, it isn’t: Frankland is super-powered here. She doesn’t want to compromise who she is to be safe, nor is she unaware of the cycles of historic persecution: “The last thing we need is respectability,” she cries at one point. Respectability breeds complacency, and we need to “Stay frightened” — a lesson all queer people should heed.
At times, it felt that the over-cluttered set weakened the show’s impact — the central performance is strong enough to stand on its own.
Still, this is a powerful piece of theatre that deftly communicates the feeling of being hunted, and of running in ever smaller circles as your options run out. When Frankland urges you to action, it’s hard to resist the call.
'Hearty' will be at Amata, Falmouth University, on 21 February, and at the Roundhouse, London, from 27-29 February.
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