Friday, May 16, 2014

Super Paua, 'Aunty Ben': Across the Starboard Bow

Ireland's first LGBT play for children is at the political helm of the gay theatre festival. Photo: Krystin Healy

The Teacher's Club, International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival
5, 10 & 17 May

My review of Auntie Ben by Sian Ní Mhuirí coming up just as soon as I leave my Christmas decorations up all year round ...

It doesn't take a David Quinn article in the Irish Catholic to know that some commentators, with dutiful strokes of their pens, will spell out unfixed gender as somehow precarious to the well-being of children. (Though, a columnist going after a children's play - that's a new one).

I doubt the LGBT community are blind to the trick. They only have to cast their eyes to Russia to see the appropriation of homosexuality as destructive to children's health in full brutal swing.

How about giving the kids the information so they can make up their own minds?

Sian Ní Mhuirí's play for the Super Paua company seeks to introduce issues of gender to child audiences. Extraordinarily, Auntie Ben appears to be the first LGBT play for children in the country.

The novelty doesn't wear off. Design elements sprinkle as Hanae Seida's colourful animation and Elliot Moriarty's sweet music brings us to the bedroom of three young adventurers - Sammy (sprightly Sophie Dobson), Tracey (Amy Flood in expert control) and Anto (a modest Lorcan Strain). When Tracy announces that she's visiting her magically-sounding drag queen uncle, her two school friends are eager to tag along. However, after meeting the feather-boa'd Ben (a gentle Shane Connolly), they understandably have to come to terms.

Ní Mhuirí's fluorescent production appeals to young audiences with a spark that might set off thoughts on gender beyond dancing girls and soccer baller boys. Fundamentally, it's a tale of standing up for yourself. As Tracy's mother (the composed Maya Cullen Petrovic) puts it: "Don't apologise to others for their lack of imagination".

So let the critics of gender benders have their say. I imagine they'll be grateful for the representation of broken families - which sorely affects the characters who, as it turns out, don't have a queer relative. Meanwhile, children's theatre that promotes acceptance of sexual and gender minorities feels crucial. We all could have done with Auntie Ben in our schooldays.

What did everybody else think?

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