BARRY @ Summerhall, Edinburgh
A clever and energetic show from Shrinking Violet, Barry is a joy to watch
First performed at the National Student Drama Festival in Manchester, and then at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2019, BARRY is a show of extraordinary energy and potential. The show starts as the cast plan a play based on the life of Margaret Anne Bulkley. Born in 1789, Bulkley made it in the exclusively male world of medicine by living as a man, Dr James Barry.
Yet the cast's research shows that James Barry was a trans man, who may never have identified as a woman. So BARRY becomes a play about writing a play about James Barry, and what that means. Can they still write the play? Do they change the play? And what right do a group of cis women have to perform a play about a trans man? They engage a trans actor, the joyous Ryan Kay, for the part of Barry, and what starts off as a vibrant, feminist romp opens out into a wider exploration of transgender issues, and benefits all the more from it.
Sometimes the frenetic nature of the performance takes away from the story. Some of the dialogue is swallowed up by the music, dance and costume changes, which is a shame because this is a performance where every word counts. Barry's exuberant lifestyle and medical achievements are alluded to rather than explored, and the show could benefit from slowing and calming slightly towards the end to give its message greater weight.
Nonetheless, the show is clever and engaging, and includes some interesting creative decisions. Added to the mix are recorded verbatim tracks of current Edinburgh University students' opinions on Barry, bringing the story up to date and highlighting a contemporary lack of awareness of transgender issues. The cast – Francesca Sellors, Jess Haygarth, Kathrine Payne and Chloe Austin – also bravely share some of their own unconsidered remarks, made during rehearsals.
BARRY is a show with huge potential, and a story worth telling. Not only because it's a great yarn, but as a celebration of the important medical achievements of a transgender man in the 1800s.