How important is the gender of a person to fall in love with them? Is gender identification a biological requirement or just a social labelling?
Written and directed by Ian Dixon Potter, Boy Stroke Girl tries to answer some of these questions by presenting a tale of unconditioned love, which goes entirely over the boundaries imposed by society. In part metaphorical and in part naive, it presents the story of Blue (Ilaria Ciardelli) and Peter (Giambruno Spena) – I don't think that's coincidental – who meet one day in Caffè Nero and discover to be both huge fans of Doctor Who. After a brief chat, they agree to meet again and go to the movies together, but there is a problem. Blue's deliberately ambiguous appearance doesn’t allow Peter to work out whether he has met a boy or a girl. What is just an insignificant detail for the young man, though, turns out to be a much bigger issue for his friends and family, who don't make a secret of their disapproval for the growing relationship.
The concise plot risk to oversimplify what is a hot and controversial topic but a good dose of self-irony helps to maintain some sort of balance. The mood of the play swings continuously between serious and playful and there is plenty of room for laughter, despite the presence of some crucial ethical arguments. Occasionally, Blue's insistence on refusing to disclose the gender becomes pedantic but Peter makes a very good point when observing that this gender-neutral appearance is far from being inconspicuous and, on the contrary, raises even more curious remarks.
The couple appear to be quite close-knit on stage, with Ilaria Ciardelli nailing the difficult role of Blue. Her bright blue eyes really pierced the air and, watching their most tender scenes in the intimate auditorium of the Etcetera Theatre, made my heart pound. Duncan Mason and Thomasin Lockwood work hard to share all the secondary roles, with the latter offering a remarkable display of different accents. On a more technical note, the actors off-stage should have kept in mind how notoriously well the sound travels across the space and possibly refrained from exchanging opinions backstage, whilst their colleagues were enacting rather crucial scenes.
The writing is intense, simple but effective and some lines are bound to become a classic. With a higher standard of production values – i.e. lighting – and a more polished overall performance the show could have easily received five stars. Boy Stroke Girl is quite possibly the most modern take on the topic of thwarted love; it questions the meaning of inner and outer beauty and defines something called 'non gender-specific love'. To sum it up with the lyrics of a famous Blur song: 'Girls who are boys, Who like boys to be girls, Who do boys like they're girls, Who do girls like they're boys. Always should be someone you really love'.
Review by Marianna Meloni