Sound Cistem is the first theatre commission from Plaster Cast, a physical theatre company made up of past and current University of Manchester students.
A celebration of being trans, it shares the stories of a collection of young trans and non-binary people in a touching and engaging way. A pulsing disco beat guides the bodies of two dancers as they invite the audience to listen to their words and the words of their community.
The original soundtrack designed for the play combines club music with trans testimonials as they weave through various relevant topics. One person talks about how freeing it is to dance without thinking, while another talks about how they always feel slightly uncomfortable in clubs. They then talk about dysphoria, the pressure to “look like a cis person”, and the struggle of bathrooms. All the while, the two dancers keep moving, raving and twisting, to further cement the words in our minds.
In a world where media representation of trans people is incredibly lacking, seeing a whole show headed by two young trans people felt incredibly freeing. The dancing was honest and inviting, breaking occasionally to act out scenes described in the interview clips. The bare stage contrasted with the colourful lights and was the perfect setting for such a raw performance. The power of this piece came not from choreographed perfection but the passion with which it was performed.
This play is exuberant and playful but also incredibly serious, addressing topics which come up time and time again in discussions around trans rights and yet there are still issues. The inability to legally register your gender as non-binary, years-long waiting lists to receive medical treatment, and the requirement of having a panel validate your transness before your gender can be legally changed.
One especially touching section commented on the forced perfection expected from those who are not cis. There is an expectation for trans people to perfectly act within their gender role when in practice this is stifling and puts unbelievable amounts of pressure on (especially young) people who feel they have to educate their peers. As one testimonial says: “real me wants to go out and be messy.”
Despite the pain expressed in much of the show, the overall message was one of hope. The interviewees finish by telling the audience that however you choose to express yourself is okay, just as however they choose to express themselves is also okay. The message to other trans people: “There’s a million ways that you are brave just for being here.”
The whole show has a very personal feel to it. The combination of the friendly club feeling alongside real people’s voices telling you their struggles felt like a talk with a friend. All in all, I left feeling quite emotional and wanted to tell others about this piece. If you get the chance to see it, Sound Cistem is definitely worth a watch.