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  • Chris O'Rourke


Ianto Lynch and Molly Whelan in Pre-Ops. Image Méabh Hennelly.


Twenty-one years. The International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival celebrates twenty-one years this year. But do we still need it? Isn’t it like Pride, all polished and corporate? Now everyone’s legally equal is it even relevant? Does it still have something to say? So the arguments go. Yet given Ireland’s biggest parade celebrates a Saint from a scandalised church who suffered an aversion to snakes, relevance and having something to say can’t really be cited as justifications. But if you must, International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival is indeed relevant and has quite a lot to say. Aside from revealing both known and hidden histories, fabulous and heart breaking stories, it addresses many new conversations arising from equality. Like surrogacy for gay couples. Like the relationship between women and trans, as well as the gay community and trans. Superbly addressed in Ezra Maloney’s smart and deeply affecting polemic, Pre-Ops.

Theatrically, little happens. Set in contemporary London, Irish emigrant Fiachra, transitioning from female to male, is about to undergo a hysterectomy. Lying on a hospital bed in a hospital gown, Fiachra’s nerves are struggling to contain themselves. Ianto Lynch’s deeply affecting Fiachra like a child at the dentist looking for distraction. The nervous, soft spoken “tranny” attempting to strike up conversation with the stranger on the far side of a screen. Proving that opposites don’t always attract. Helen, a heterosexual woman also awaiting a hysterectomy, would rather be left alone. Molly Whelan’s superbly crafted Helen a sombre, serious, middle class Miss Havisham all judgemental expression and a voice that sneers. A stoic survivor, like an unamused Queen Victoria, Helen’s stiff upper Englishness shows a touch of the TERF having no time for trans people taking up beds real women need. Yet Whelan's fragile sternness ensures Helen is never reduced to a tropish bigot. And so the gloves come off, and on again, and off, and on again as Maloney undertakes a smartly handled interrogation of the issues that divide and the experiences that unite. Two people in the same hospital, undergoing the same procedure, living on the same planet, but inhabiting two entirely different worlds.

Ianto Lynch and Molly Whelan in Pre-Ops. Image Méabh Hennelly.

Like Shon Faye’s The Trans-Gender Issue, Pre-Ops sets out to establish relationships between trans and other monitories by proffering the anecdotal over the evidential. Making its points but not always its case. Yet Maloney, drawing on their own experience of transitioning, does a far better job for not wanting to make a clear cut case in the first place. More inclusionary than exclusionary, steeped in humanity rather than argument, the humans at the centre of Pre-Ops engage with wonderful messiness. Highlighting their prejudice, presumptions, blindspots and flaws. Maloney’s fleshed out characters sincere in their blindness, groping in the dark for mutual understanding, arriving at an uneasy beginning rather than a clearly defined end. Maloney’s economical direction beautifully paced. Ensuring that if conversation skirts towards lecture on occasion, it quickly restores voices to its characters. Táin Swain cameoing as a nurse providing a clever link between the plays two acts. Whilst also serving as a clever device to efficiently relay facts about hysterectomies without the play buckling under the informational weight.

Whilst clear in its convictions, Pre-Ops knows better than to align itself with easy prejudice. Rather, it allows its characters dominate over positions, which they modify as a result of their encounter. With Pre-Ops, Maloney beautifully balances the tension between polemic and people. Between the personal politicised and the political made personal. Pre-Ops might be lumpy, messy, and struggle to hold itself together at times, but it deals in real, visceral, untidy truths. Otherwise known as people. Listening as much as it speaks, informing without drowning you in information, looking to heal divisions rather than divide, Pre-Ops proves a rewarding, engaging and thought provoking piece of work. Relevant, having lots to say, with two well paced performances, it offers further evidence of the importance of The International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. Which, with its pop up venues, double bills, shows sharing spaces and a rough and ready, punk-like sensibility feels like Edinburgh Fringe. In other words, get ready to enjoy a great festival experience. Starting with Pre-Ops.

Pre-Ops, written and directed by Ezra Maloney, runs at The Ireland Institute, The Pearse Centre until May 11 as part of the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival 2024 which runs till May 19.


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