Preview: Why is John Lennon Wearing A Skirt?

Anunita Chandrasekar 7 May 2017

As I stand with director Rebecca Vaa on the street outside her accommodation, waiting for the rest of her team to arrive for a rehearsal, she tells me that ‘Why Is John Lennon Wearing A Skirt?’ will probably be the final production on her illustrious CamDram credits list.

“In a way, this is really a great production to go out on. For something like this, the technical side of things is just less all-encompassing, so it’s really all about the performance, and you can really focus on getting [the performance] just right.”

This play carries an extremely detailed script and deals with a very sensitive topic, and so Vaa and the production’s only actor, Rosanna Suppa, seem extremely focused on getting things “just right”. The weight resting on their team to do this production well is further reinforced by the fact that they have just learned that the playwright, Claire Dowie, will be in the audience for one of their performances this week.

However, from what I see, this production really does justice to its source material and to the people it addresses. Suppa’s fear that the playwright’s presence will leave her, as she puts it, “cowering in the corner like a subordinate puppy,” is, I strongly suspect, unfounded. Her performance in the rehearsal is about as far from cowering as you can get. This being said, the feeling of being cornered is certainly one which is central to this play, making Corpus Playroom the perfect venue.

‘Why is John Lennon Wearing a Skirt?’ takes the form of an extended monologue, in which the unnamed ‘Performer’ recounts the story of a difficult girlhood and androgynous adolescence struggling against the concept of gender, and what gender means for them. In the second half of the play which I watch Suppa rehearsing, under the watchful eyes of Vaa and producer Katt Weaver, she recounts the story of her character’s journey from about eight to about twelve years old, and then skips abruptly to their late teens, missing out the part of the story which has already been told in the first half – the dreaded ‘awkward’ stage of teenagehood.

This play certainly deals with sensitive issues surrounding gender and femininity, but is anything but meek or apologetic. While we as the audience are allowed a privileged glance into the psyche of the main character, we are also quite literally confronted by her at several points during her monologue, placing us as an audience simultaneously within and without. This makes for a very raw and, at times, quite harrowing viewing experience, with the audience forced to confront their own experiences of gender and gender-based discrimination and violence, and, as the Performer puts it, “the things that the world does wrong for little girls”.

As Suppa performs a striptease act from her ‘childhood’ clothes into her ‘young adult clothes’ (the play is structured around costume changes which denote the Performer’s shifts in identity) to John Lennon’s controversial track ‘Woman’, to signify her change from childhood into young adulthood, we stop sniggering at the cracklingly witty jibes of Dowie’s script and watch, painfully intimate and uncomfortable, in weighty silence. At this moment, you can’t help but really feel confronted by the weight that social constructions of gender place upon us.

When the Performer tells us of their nine year old self that, “all she can aspire to is manhood”, or at twelve that they felt, “an insidious feeling that the boys are getting a decent education, and I’m just being tolerated”, we are left with a (re)new(ed) anger at how gender distorts and twists the world and psyche of absolutely everyone in our society, but particularly those of people who are born with female genitalia.

‘Why Is John Lennon Wearing A Skirt’ looks set to be a brilliantly funny and harrowingly intimate production, and one which all involved should definitely feel proud of.