Boy Stroke Girl starts a little nervously. It might be that it is opening night at the Etcetera Theatre, or that we are a small audience. But as it warms up, it becomes a play which really gets me thinking, and has kept me thinking ever since.
Two people meet, begin to chat, they have interests in common (namely, Dr Who) and there is an instant attraction. Yet Peter (Gianbruno Spena) comes away from the first encounter unsure if he has just met – and made a date with – a male or a female. Blue (Ilaria Ciardelli) will not be defined by Blue’s gender or any form of labelling, and deliberately chooses an androgynous look and name (even choosing a pronoun is difficult in English when you don’t know their gender). Peter and Blue carry on seeing each other, but not getting intimate, at Blue’s insistence, and the play builds nicely towards the climax which (like Blue’s gender) I will not disclose here.
In Boy Stroke Girl, both written and directed by Ian Dixon Potter, we examine the situation through not just Peter’s journey – can he fall for Blue as a person, irrespective of gender and genitalia? – but also through the reactions of his friends and family. In this way we examine our own reactions. My initial feelings of frustration with Blue, and Blue’s persistence with the idea that nobody should know the truth about their gender, turns gradually to indignation that anybody else should question it. As Blue says, labelling somebody is just being lazy, each person is unique, and ought to have their own thoughts, not just copy the next person’s prejudices.
There are many ideas in the play about identity, being yourself, not limiting yourself to how you have been defined, and not pandering to society’s expectations. The love story is a clever, sometimes too intellectual, way to really get you to question your own beliefs about some essential truths. The sexual part brings in another layer, for what if Blue does turn out to be a boy, does that make Peter gay? Or bi? The cast and creative team play it just right. Blue is played intriguingly well by Ciardelli, and the other three members of the cast provide great support. I particularly enjoyed the swift change in hairstyle that changed Peter’s friend Ron (Duncan Mason) into Peter’s Dad, and Thomasin Lockwood is strong in all three of her roles.
Boy Stroke Girl sounds quite deep, and on the theme of gender and self-knowledge and sexual freedom it is. However it has a nice lightness too, which brings the intellectual conversations back down to earth, for example this line from Peter’s friend Sara: “What if he/she turns out to have a penis?” and from his mother on learning that he doesn’t know whether Blue is a boy or a girl: “What, it didn’t come up in conversation?”
By Hatty Uwanogho