What a show: It’s a Bird from the Equality Act. Bea Udeh reviews Jordan Gray's latest show...
Maybe it’s a production about batman, but there’s a lot of trans inclusive guidance.
I had not visited Lakeside Arts Centre for a good few months, so taking in the exhibition and watching the audience queue up in the foyer and cafe area ahead of the show was fascinating. Why had we all come? Was it for the comedy, the deep storytelling or was it for the showstopper. This was one of the opening lines Jordan Gray gave in relation to the publicity on her flyer mentioning nudity. I was here for the second one because comedy attracts all sorts of people, but if you can get a good socio-political-deep story cleverly layered in there for me to raise my left eyebrow or snap my fingers like I’m at spoken word poetry night, then I’m won. And although there was no poetry, there was a loose structure to the show that indeed made me raise eyebrows and snap my fingers.
The lights on stage dim and the audience quieten as a booming voiceover just off-stage invites us to give a welcoming round of applause for Jordan Gray, “That’s me!” And she bounds across to the left of the stage, then right, followed by leaping upwards and springing low. This is all done in her beloved, but worn-out black boiler suit, held carefully together with a Lycra patch at her right rear. It was almost as if this underrated outfit should take away from the brightness of the show. She immediately breaks the fourth wall with high fives shared with audience members on the first row.
After Jordan explains the format of her show which begins with a song, she humbly takes her seat in front of a keyboard declaring that she had only recently in the past month learned to play through following Youtube piano tutorials. I fell for that one, because throughout the show Jordan’s mastery of the keyboard is bold and effervescent as she delivers punchy, comedic songs in different styles and different voices including two versions of Cher.
There is a rhythm and drive to the show as she leads us to the eventual mountaintop with a, “Nottingham asked for an interval, so the second half will be longer than the first”, segue.
Before the show, I was telling Jordan that I had attended the launch event at Bishopsgate Library a few weeks ago of the Trans Inclusive Culture guidance document produced by the Royal College of Museums and Galleries. The document is to support people working in that sector as we navigate New Normal behaviours and attitudes with guidance through several scenarios. As my day job and my lived experience looks at how the Equality Act 2010 intersects with being human and treating people humanely, did Jordan see her show as a way to do this?
Jordan explains that although the show is not in your face political, it is coded into the production. She feels lucky that wherever she goes that her audience, which is really broad in range, are made up of some people who are not quite sure of what they are even looking at when she comes out but they're open but they don't know and I'm easing them over the imaginary fence, “I’m up here being a six-foot toddler, having a really nice time…I think people feel happy and clever for being able to enjoy the show.”
'It’s a Bird’ is an education that does not stop giving out grades
Jordan enjoys inviting an audience member to be part of the scene in between songs such as William, whose name is included in a song. We also have a married couple Steph and John, who Jordan builds a song sequence to enhance their relationship. With the thrust of the show being musical pieces, the clever layers of performance stem from Jordan’s interactions with people on first meeting her, as to whether she is actually a bird, and is this a valid observation? She takes polls, asking us questions and allowing us space to make mistakes without judging us, using references to facts about bats vs Batman, the dichotomy or pluralism of multifaith rhetoric in various religions and then there was the elephant, not just the bird, in the room - the bright red telephone box.
‘It’s a Bird’ is an education that does not stop giving out grades. A lesson in marketing with Jordan putting herself out there with consistent content. Was her nudity the show stopping content? For the audience the mix of storytelling and interactive ‘lessons’ and comedy songs reminiscent of the late Victoria Wood led to the climactic moment. Jordan had previously spoken with me about the birth of the show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where shows including nudity happened at any time of day, “There was a wonderful subsection of performers that looked like Gaulier clowns who were nude 24/7. It was both unique and cerebral.” During her performance Jordan continues to drop lessons - this time on human anatomy and babies. By the time we hit the show stopping moment we are thrust into her spotlight. It is intentional, surprising, but doesn’t come across as titillating. This is what Jordan describes as a child opening up their presents on Christmas morning, then running around joyfully having taken their clothes off.
“I’m no burlesque performer.” But as I look at the definition, I choose to disagree, because if Jordan Gray was a lexicon then I would say from A to C she is an actor, a ‘bird’ and a comedy-writer. And burlesque describes, not defines, how she has crafted and delivered her show derived from the serious lessons and intersections of her life.
It’s A Bird played at Lakeside Arts Centre on 13 October 2023.
We have a favour to ask
LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?