ALOK | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review
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Edinburgh Fringe comedy review

By turns waspish, witty, maudlin, superior, vulnerable, angry, scared and drained, ALOK Vaid-Menon certainly goes through the emotions over their 60 minutes on stage. But in this layered and heartfelt cri de coeur, they are never less than an uplifting, inspirational advocate for anyone outside the gender binary.

Identifying as a ‘demi-sexual trans femme of colour performance artist’, their first section sets out the stall most effectively. Promising this will be a safe space for the straights, ALOK – who insists their stage name be spelled out in capitals – flips societal structures on their head. They argue society should be protected from the hetero, white, cis ‘men in pants’, who the performer sees as an ever-dwindling constituency whose crackpot ideas put children and free expression at risk.

ALOK sees straight culture dying from hubris and adopts a patronising tone to try to empathise with this backwards demographic. They express a condescending sympathy, pity even, for those men who will never be able to feel the joy of painted nails or express themselves through a colourful frock.

It’s a witty spin, though it doesn’t entirely escape the risk of being several variants of the same gag. However, just after this shtick starts feeling one-none, ALOK abruptly changes tone for a beautiful, tender and elegiac piece of writing about how they saw their grandfather’s life ebb away over several days. Nor is it the only time they switch to poetic, affecting writing to add emotional heft and a change of both pace and topic from the impassioned calls for a gender rethink.

ALOK is simultaneously deep and shallow. When material demands it, they have all the sass we’ve come to associate with their drag queen sisters. But while they are vain and superior, delivering withering putdowns with a coy, eyelash flutter and a Valley girl drawl, that’s tempered by acknowledgement of their offstage insecurities and of the loathing they face every day. People literally want to kill them. How’s that for cancel culture?

There are bumps on the road of this show. Arguing against the ‘Terf’ standpoint using Clippy The Microsoft Paper Clip as a trans ally trips up on its contrivance. And a segment around yoga gets caught in an absurd magical reality that it’s hard to keep a grasp on, especially when the issues behind it are so real.

But much of the content is stimulating, such as asking cis people if they know who they are outside the templates society has imposed because, ALOK asserts, trans people do.

Ultimately, and for all the defiant upbeat posturing, ALOK’s provocative and powerful call for a gender reset away from fear-driven transphobia is a sobering one. Even if those who most need to hear it, to help them adjust their window of possibility just a bit, never will.

ALOK is on at the Traverse Thetare at 9pm until August 21

Review date: 10 Aug 2022
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Traverse Theatre

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