Sunday, February 10, 2008

10 february 2008
I was still feeling very gragile when i went to see Barry at the Glasgow Citizens a while ago.
(see www.rowantreetheatrecompany.co.uk)
James Barry was born a woman, but developed the ambition to become a doctor.
At that stage in 19th century, it was impossible for a woman to study medecine.
But she was helped by a rich patron to change her identity and become a man.
As a man, he was enrolled in Edinburgh University medical School, duly qualified, joined the army as a doctor; and thereafter pursued a controversial and astonishingly energetic career as a reformer.
in Act One, the play dramatised an unsubstantiated claim (discounted by the Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women) that she had become pregnant, and given birth to a son, in secret, which she then abandoned.
She was a pregnant woman, about to give birth, telling her story.
In Act Two she was her male self, about to fight a duel.
I am the worst person to see a play written by another: I become ferociously critical of the writing, and almost invariably end up rewriting the play in my imagination.
And, naturally, knowing the play i could have written would be the better one.
I always feel an affinity with these women who were forced to live as men in order to fulfill themselves.
The fact that their story seems to make more sense than mine is a reflection of our own misogyny. Someone born a woman who becomes a man seems, in our subconscious, still to be gaining status. Someone like myself, born a man and in the process of becoming a woman, seems to be losing it.
But the reason for the journey is the same: to become our true selves.
Perhaps it was my affinity, then, with the main character that stilled the rewriting voice in my head.
But I suspect it was more the astonishing skill of Isabella Jarrett, who played him.
She was performing in the tiny Stalls Theatre of the Citz; and she reminded me just how powerful it is to be sharing a room with an actor of immense commitment and skill.
There were moments in Act one when she switched from being the pregnant Barry and became an old witch/midwive Barry had encountered in the Borders; and then in Act Two she utterly transformed herself into this fearsome man.. and I kept rediscovering that childlike pleasure in watching a fellow human being making herself transform.
In Part Two of my Faust she played my self - the poet transformed into a woman- and here, in some magical manner she helped me understand both the workings of my own deep self and the magic of my art and craft.

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