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FLAWED____like a b_y - Midsumma Review

Home > Melbourne > Festivals | Gay & Lesbian | Performing Arts | Theatre | Theatre Reviews
by Aridhi Anderson (subscribe)
Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at
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A powerful, confronting show about growing up gay
A minimal set. Unambiguous, explicit props. Stunningly worn gender nonconforming costumes. Spoken word poetry, monologues, story telling, choreographed dances, enactments. Three performers - led by the writer, Bj McNeill - who absolutely own the stage.

FLAWED____like a b_y is an abstract, poetic, autobiographical show about growing up gay in a straight man's world, in a homophobic part of Australia. It's a powerful, confronting, sobering yet empowering story of one man's experience navigating his identity, sexuality and self-expression in a world that didn't make it easy for him to find his place. Although the events and feelings described in the show are one person's story, they are (unfortunately) deeply relatable and represent challenges faced by many people in the LGBTQ community.

"No one teaches queer children how to exist," says McNeill, in one of the show's most powerful statements. "We just have to make it up." He takes us through personal stories starting from when he was a child, when he first began to realise that he was different from what he was expected to be, and how that "wasn't okay". He shares stories about being told off for things as innocuous as calling a man handsome, being compelled to take up "manly" hobbies like fishing, being pushed into sport, being in trouble for having been seen kissing his boyfriend in public. Such incidents are damaging enough for a young person to suffer during their formative years, but it didn't stop there. McNeill proceeds to share stories about being bullied, being physically assaulted when he tried to stand up for himself, and later on, being violently sexually assaulted and dealing with the awful trauma that came with that. He highlights the irony of being constantly pushed to be more like a boy, to be more "masculine"... when the examples of masculinity all around him were the source of unquantifiable damage.

This show is text-heavy, and it is evident that each word carries the weight of the writer's personal physical and emotional experience. McNeill and the other two performers, Rebecca Montalti and Mitchell Wilson, perform this often abstract, narrative-driven piece with great persuasiveness. There are parts of the text that appear fragmented, words and ideas grouped together in short phrases or sentences, sometimes spoken too quickly for them to really land and form clear visuals in the audience's mind. But even these fragments are presented with conviction, and with continuity of emotion, so you get a sense of having understood what is being said, even without fully comprehending all the words. Although this was probably unintentional, it felt fitting for a show of this nature: it was a reminder that it is possible to access, empathize with, and be an ally in other people's stories, even if one hasn't experienced those things themselves.

McNeill's story deals with issues that are at the very core of queer living: questions of identity, self-expression, taking space, resistance, resilience, dealing with hate and violence, overcoming internalized homophobia, learning to steer internal dialogue away from self-blame and towards self-acceptance, and so much more. Despite the darkness in most of the narrative, hope and triumph is foreshadowed throughout the show. The confident performances - especially the dance routines (I particularly enjoyed their take on Lady Gaga's Love Game) - promise a powerful ending, which the show more than delivers.

This show is a journey through darkness towards hope, a journey towards a world where queer people are no longer bound by heteronormative oppression, take up space to be themselves, and let young queer people know that they too have a place in the world.

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Why? A show confronting toxic masculinity and homophobia
When: 23 January - 27 January 2019
Where: La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond St, Carlton
Cost: $30
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