Travesty @ Assembly, George Square

Stand-up Liam Williams' debut play is a role-swapping romance

Review by Stu Black | 12 Aug 2016
  • Travesty

There’s only one trick in Liam Williams’ debut play Travesty but it's quite a neat one. On stage there is a bed, a man and a woman – except that the sexes have been swapped so here it’s Lydia Larsen playing Ben and Pierro Niel-Mee as his girlfriend Anna. Once you’ve absorbed this switch, the play delivers a fairly conventional take on a mismatched May-to-December romance. 

Ben is a teacher from the Midlands with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, while Anna is a PR girl from a village in the South who has one eye on a bit of light social climbing. They screw, share their feelings, see friends and eat quite a lot of lemon tart. There are some nicely-turned lines and it’s all believable enough, but it is pretty subtle bordering on the slight.

But the point here is that the audience is continually asked to see a woman as a man and, perhaps more potently, a man as a woman. It’s much more interesting watching the stubbly Niel-Mee contort himself into the character of Anna both emotionally and at times physically. The shift in the power dynamic this implies does work well and means that standard scenes assume a greater depth and significance than the writing alone can manage.

As a gimmick then the sex swap is a good one, though it must be said, it’s an extension of a trend we’ve seen in theatre over the last few years. The re-gendering of Shakespeare for example has already given us a great Hamlet from Maxine Peake as well as Phyllida Lloyd’s fascinating all-female Julius Caesar.

Applying the gambit to more or less any story feels like a logical way of freshening up over-familiar stories: Aunty Vanya, Mr Julian, Queen Lear and Death Of A Saleswoman – they’ll be doing an all-female Ghostbusters next...

Travesty, Assembly George Square Studios (Five), 3-28 Aug (not 15), 5.30pm, £6-11