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Reviews/Theatre

Queer wordsmith delivers wit and wisdom

29 October 2021

Blending autobiography, history lessons and a glitter wand-toting, drag queen fairy godmother, Stace Callaghan’s Queer as Flux is one you shouldn’t miss, says Nina Levy.

Queer as Flux, The Nest Ensemble ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 28 October 2021·

Queer as Flux is a solo show, but it feels more like a two-hander, or maybe even an ensemble work.

That’s because the show’s performer and writer, Brisbane’s Stace Callaghan, spends their time on stage in a state of flux, transitioning smoothly between various iterations of themself.

At one level Queer as Flux is autobiographical and the work transports us back in time – not necessarily chronologically – taking us through various transitions in Stace’s life, and in the lives of those around them.

We see Stace transition in the way the title implies, from girl to tomboy, from tomboy to lesbian, from lesbian to non-binary and transgender (although they make an entertaining and compelling argument against the term non-binary: “even the term non-binary is so binary”, and question the need we have for these labels more broadly: “words are useful, but not if they fix me to outdated versions of myself”).

But, as the program points out, “transitioning, as a process, is common to everyone”. We also witness the transitions of Stace’s mother from independence to dementia, their father from care-receiver to care-giver, their much-loved dog from life to death, and their own body into surgically-induced menopause. Being in a state of flux, this play argues, is part of being alive.

If this sounds serious, it is… and it isn’t. Callaghan is a wordsmith and those words are infused with wit.

Much of that wit is delivered by Stace’s “sensationally sassy alter-ego”, Polly Tickle, a glitter wand-toting, drag-queen fairy godmother, who acts as a guide through seminal moments in queer history, and Stace’s own history.

If you love language you’ll rejoice in Callaghan’s clever word play. It’s hard to do the script justice out of context, but an observation, near the play’s start, that draws a neat connection from shit, to the colon, to colonisation, is gold, and sets the bar for what’s to come. I’ll never see the word “Transperth” in the same light again.

Word nerds – like me – will also appreciate Callaghan’s poetic turn of phrase. During an underwater meeting with whales, they describe their body as “a treasure chest filled with phosphorescent jewels”. Later there’s frustration at “the oppressive storm called heteronormativity”. Their prose is crisp and evocative, reminiscent of Jeanette Winterson (whom they reference).

Stace Callaghan shifts seamlessly between life-stages. Photo: Kaifu Deng

But it’s not just Callaghan’s words that delight. With an extensive back catalogue that includes circus and physical theatre, they move with deftness and versatility, shifting seamlessly between life-stages and associated “super-powers”, and between Stace and Polly.

Callaghan is superbly directed by Leah Mercer – the timing and pacing of this work is spot on. The show relies on crisp lighting and sound effects, designed by Peter Young and Olivia Cosham respectively, and expertly delivered by stage manager Maddy Mullins.

Alison Ross’s projections are the neon pink icing on the cake, illustrating those aforementioned turning points in queer history, and providing gravity and levity in equal measure.

By presenting the state of transitioning as a universal experience, contextualised against key moments in LGBTIQ+ history, Callaghan and Mercer say they hope to combat trans/homophobia and this work certainly feels like a step in the right direction.

Uplifting and enlightening, moving and entertaining, Queer as Flux is a show that everyone should see.

Queer as Flux continues at The Blue Room Theatre until 13 November 2021.

Pictured top: Stace Callaghan as the glitter wand-toting, drag-queen fairy godmother Polly Tickle. Photo: Kaifu Deng

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked for over a decade as an arts writer and critic. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. Nina was co-editor of Dance Australia magazine from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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