Review by Lucy Lucas
After first delighting audiences at the Melbourne International Arts Festival in 2019,
variety cabaret Gender Euphoria has returned, this time as Gender Euphoria: Mighty Real. Co-created by beloved diva and songstress Mama Alto and cabaret legend Maude Davey OAM this joyous and poignant showcase remains the largest ensemble of trans and gender diverse artists to ever perform on an Australian mainstage.
The State Theatre has been transformed into a cabaret club, with the audience seated alongside the performers on one of the biggest stages in the world. A delightful nod to turning expectations on their heads, this choice also breaks down the fourth wall from the outset, allowing for an essential sense of intimacy and community.
Mama Alto helms an impressive and gloriously diverse line up. As emcee she shepherds us through a dazzling array of music, dance, circus, burlesque, spoken word, comedy and drag. However, there is so much triumphant blending of style and artform that genre labels hardly seem useful here.
Iconic Fa'afafine performer Aunty Amao Leota Lu, supported by the up-and-coming House of Alexander, gives a lesson in pure presence, fusing Pasifika rhythms and movement with upbeat pop hits. Renowned Sistergirl and drag artist Aunty Crystal Love Johnson shines with unbound joy, taking the entire audience along with her. The honouring of these matriarchs, in this ecstatic space, feels essential and sacred. They have been witnesses and advocates for much of the journey that has allowed this moment to exist and in celebrating these staunch femmes in all their power and vulnerability, we acknowledge too the bittersweet reality that permeates much of Gender Euphoria; pain often sits alongside joy and struggle alongside resistance.
Drag darling Miss Cairo combines her charmingly goofy stand-up persona with a truly jaw-dropping singing voice. The aerial acts of both Luca Trimboli and Themme Fatale are two of the most hypnotic and beautiful of the evening, accompanied musically by the perfect combination of power and pathos. Themme Fatale also delivers a blisteringly sharp indictment of rigidity and trans-exploitation, that cuts through as perhaps the most exigent of the evening. Part druid, part lecturer-god, performance artist Fury takes us on a mesmerising journey to find and make peace with our innate grotesquery whilst Georgie ‘Mx Munro’ George pairs their delicious, sultry naughtiness with classic show-tune stylings.
Actor Harvey Zielinksi blends autobiography and performance into a powerful monologue, honouring the many states of being within a gender exploration journey and drawing a line back through history to the shoulders on which he stands proud. Comedian Nikki Viveca is at her effortless best; well-honed comedy chops allowing her to safely steer us into darker waters, always assured that she will guide us back with a tongue-in-cheek aside. Naarm icon Nevo Zisin delivers a ‘stripped-back’ spoken word performance that packs an affecting and tender punch. Brave is an awful phrase to use in relation to baring the body on stage. I always feel it is used in a denigrating sense to infer that bodies that ‘shouldn’t’ be seen are being seen – however it is brave, it is courageous to be one’s whole self, with no barriers, in such a public way and I found myself overcome with the beauty and power of this act. True bravery encourages others to be brave themselves and in their naked and unbound radiance Zisin made me feel like I am enough. I don’t know if there is a greater gift a performer can give their audience.
A multi-faceted and technically complex show, the Gender Euphoria cast were beautifully supported and guided by co-musical directors Ned Dixon and Rosie Rai and a phenomenal stage manager who I sadly cannot name-check due to the lack of non-artist credits online.
Mighty Real is a jubilant, liberating and deeply affecting celebration of the power, creativity and importance of the gender-diverse community. It is an essential education in what is meant when we ask for art made ‘by and for the community’ from which it springs. In this space the trans and gender-diverse community and their allies could come together to commiserate with and delight in shared experience with compassion and love. If those in our wider community who denigrate and misunderstand trans people could access even a small part of the welcome and warmth offered by this community the world would be a much, much better place. I’d say it was impossible to articulate what I was feeling as I left the Arts Centre, but in the end it’s all in the title, I was simply euphoric.