Overflow at Bush Theatre
Remember when the girls’ bathroom was a sanctuary for any and all? On nights out, when it served as a beauty clinic, photo studio, networking centre, VIP booth and even (very rarely) a place to use the toilet? Rosie does – except now she’s trapped in one. Gone is the feeling of security and community; all she can do is wait for the threat blocking her in to pass, and reminisce on what the women’s loo used to be.
The new one-woman show by Burgerz writer Travis Alabanza, Overflow is the first live theatre to feature at the Bush since the covid lockdown, and it sets its sights high: a prescient examination of the complex social positioning of bathrooms for trans people. The topic has become an increasingly heated debate in recent years, with the play quipping that the world has become “re-obsessed” with the idea of who can pee where. However, as Alabanza frames the issue, it’s more a case of who can exist where and get out alive.
Indeed, transwoman Rosie (Reece Lyons) rides a conversational riptide. The lead brings the audience on a tour of the many restrooms that have shaped her life, as a way to tune out the violent threats that emanate from just outside the bog. As their staccato thuds ring out, interrupting her anecdotes, the lavatory transforms from sanctum to warzone, complete with debris and enemy forces. It’s heartbreakingly clear that trans people like the protagonist are no longer safe in such spaces.
Inasmuch, Overflow feels like a bit of a eulogy for the bathroom. As Rosie remembers the highs and lows of this once-beloved interior (the post-rave escapades and the school-loo floodings, respectively), the play adopts a mournful tone – such memories are lost in the wake of discriminatory attitudes. Last year, The Sociological Review found that exclusionary practices increase the level of violence felt by all toilet users, not just transgender people. Everyone suffers due to this prejudice, and Alabanza captures it perfectly.
Equally, Lyons, who won the lead role through an open casting call for trans actors, embodies the intersectional perspective with aplomb. Faint echoes of bruises crosshatch Rosie’s body as her sassy asides earn quick laughs from the audience. She wins viewers over through her mesmerising performance, but betrays a fragility that is the result of a lifetime of violence. Moreover, director Debbie Hannan instils a theatrical boldness into proceedings: the music is loud, the pace is quick and a sense of danger is never understated.
Nevertheless, there are a few anachronistic elements (why is there a statue of a Venus in the girls’ loo?), but it’s easily overlooked when the commentary is this biting. Over the course of the hour-long run, the spectators become unwitting observers of the “death” of the bathroom: faucets are smashed, walls are graffitied and basins are blocked. However, it all makes sense – if, with the rise of anti-trans violence, restrooms can never exist as they were, should they even exist at all?
Overflow is at Bush Theatre from 11th December until 16th January 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.