Because we can’t see something it doesn’t mean that it is not there lurking somewhere in the dark under the loamy soil. Like a diamond lost in the dirt.
In We Dig (Oval House), an international group of trans women and trans feminine artists, led by Emma Frankland, whose Hearty was such a pleasure in Edinburgh this summer, are using the moment when Ovalhouse is about to disappear to examine the histories that lie buried under our feet. In what must be one of the best entrances ever, most of the artists arrive on stage in a hail of rubble. They burst through a wall, reminding us that sometimes things have to be dismantled in order that others can take their rightful place centre stage.
Photos by Rosie Powell.
They set about creating a huge hole with spades and pneumatic drills. But in the act of excavating they are finding themselves, and a lost history. It is hard, beautiful, muddy work. Shared work. Watching the real physical effort is in itself a pleasure. Dirt clings to their skin, sweat glistens, goggles are donned. The hole gets bigger. A can of coke, an old cigarette packet, a high heeled shoe emerge. But something else is released too: the pressure that bears down on those who have felt “the rope of gender” and who have been obliged to seek safety in the dark; those whose stories have been lost and crushed. As Frankland reminds, trans people have always been here. They have just been hidden from view.
We Dig operates outside of theatre’s traditional structures, even as it fits this moment in Ovalhouse’s history—a radical history, first as a soup kitchen, then as a pioneer of alternative theatre—like a glass slipper. It works through metaphor—Gein Wong tending a garden of garlic amidst the destruction; Tamir Pettet (standing in for Travis Alabanza on the night I saw) trying to stem a drip that is turning into a flood—and it dances with possibility. It understands that with demolition comes change. That when you dig really deep you can build up stronger. The spades hit the soil. A can of coke is shared. Together they work, collectively resisting the weight of the world. Remembering what has been forgotten. Digging themselves out of the hole of amnesia and emerging in bright, gaudy harmony. Messy, sometimes mournful and magnificent.