Rose Street Theatre, Edinburgh
Safe Place is the drama I’ve been waiting for: a sensitive, insightful examination of the uneasy relationship between trans-activism and feminism. It asks (and answers) many questions, and all within the framework of a genuinely good play with convincing, well-rounded characters. It’s nuanced and intelligent, and it’s entertaining too.
Martine (Jennifer Black) is a Germaine Greer-type figure: a well-respected academic with unimpeachable feminist credentials. But she’s out of touch when it comes to transgender issues, dismissive of the idea that one can ‘choose’ to become a woman. She is forced to confront her beliefs head-on when Rowan (Shane Convery) arrives at her door in the early hours of the morning, starving, homeless and begging for help. Because trans-woman Rowan, despite her desperate need for food and shelter, is uncompromising in her demand that she should be accepted for who she is: not as a lesser, ‘unreal’ kind of woman, but as an equal – different but every bit as valid.
If the conceit is a little contrived – and it is – then it doesn’t really matter. Because the conversation between the two women opens up an important debate. We need to listen to each other, young and old and in-between, to reach a mutual understanding. I leave this play better informed, having witnessed the interrogation of some of my own unwitting prejudices. I’m glad that Martine is given the chance to express her doubts, and that she’s treated with respect; she might be wrong, but she deserves to be part of the conversation.
But the starring role here, quite rightly, is Shane Convery’s: Rowan is a fascinating character, played with charm and subtlety by the young actor. She’s delicate but strong, wounded but still fighting. And she wins the day – because she’s clearly right. It’s a stunning performance.
This isn’t quite a two-hander: there’s a bit of light relief in the form of Martine’s agent, Nina (Shonagh Price), who helps illuminate Martine’s position, and slyly undermine it too.
This play, beautifully written by Clara Glynn, is an important piece of theatre. I’d love to see it taken into schools – not so much for students as for teachers, although I’m sure teenagers would gain from it too. But it’s my generation that most needs to learn this stuff and here is a ‘safe place’ for us to do just that. The only thing that could make it better would be a companion piece about trans-men.