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Oval House Theatre presents




Writer / Director/Actor: Sarah Leaver


Director: Denise Evans


Music Composition: Jason Pegg


Stage Management: Milo Foster-Prior


Oval House Theatre


10 – 27 March 2010






A review by Jafar Iqbal for EXTRA! EXTRA!

One-man shows are always an intriguing spectacle, I feel. You have your productions with a cast of four or five and, more often than not, you’ll get a couple of stand-out performances and the rest plodding along; the good performances balance out the average ones and everyone’s happy. In a one-man show, though, all judgement is reserved for just the one person. That one performer who has the courageous task of providing you with enough enjoyment and entertainment to leave you feeling like you’ve had a good night out at the theatre.

One such individual taking on that challenge is Sarah Leaver, writer and performer of Memoirs of a Hermaphrodite, playing now at the Oval House Theatre. Now’s a good time to point out the irony that I’m referring to one-man shows during the review of a production about a hermaphrodite; and, to be fair, this irony is one facet of what the play seeks to explore.

Memoirs… is the true story of Adelaide Herculine Barbin, born in France in the 19th century. It was at a time when the idea of hermaphrodites was seen as freakish and abnormal, setting the course for Barbin’s turbulent life. It is through Barbin’s own memoirs that the story has been told, from her time as a girl in a Catholic school, to his time as a man living alone in Paris. We see the transformation from innocent, naïve child to insecure, isolated adult, finally ending with Barbin’s suicide at the age of thirty.

You could argue that giving away the ending to the play is a bad move, but this isn’t a play looking for twists and turns and surprising climaxes. It’s easy to see from the very beginning that the eventual end is an inevitability – we already know that Barbin’s life did not end happily, it is the ‘how’ part that shapes the narrative.

And when it comes to the narrative flow of the piece, Leaver is extremely successful (and so begins the first round of praise I will shower at the actor). The script is wonderfully written, a beautiful mesh of poetry and wit, painting Barbin as a misunderstood artist. It is not just Barbin that has been written so well though; brief cameos from other people in her life are also well-defined and distinguished, adding to the spectacle.

This brings us nicely, then onto Leaver’s performance. In one word, it is sensational. Leaver takes full command of the stage, bringing out a performance that is at times both heart-warming and heart-wrenching. The young woman has written and devised the whole performance with director Denise Evans, and this intimacy with the piece shines through an assured and extremely confident performance. It is by no means a simple acting role – Leaver plays not only Barbin but everybody else in the piece, cleverly using her posture and positioning to create these new characters. Costume changes occur frequently, often needing to take place in a matter of seconds, but Leaver has control over it all.

Kudos also must go to the technicians in the back, aiding the performance with a fantastic use of music and lighting. Light plays an integral role in the production, mirroring Barbin’s own emotions, and it used very intelligently too as a device to establish space and location. The music, as well, does a fantastic job of throwing us into the world of the play, moving in tone in parallel with Barbin’s mood.

I could go on and on about Memoirs…, as there is so much to praise, but I prefer to encourage you to see it than read about it. When the only faults I can pick up on are the accidental loss of two props, a trivial concern with all live performance that doesn’t actually affect the play in any way, I can’t really give a more glowing response than that. This is a piece of theatre that I would happily go to see again, and cannot urge you enough to do the same. Leaver’s performance, and her handling of the subject matter, is sensational. This will definitely rank up there as one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen. Please go and see it.

Box Office: 020 7582


Wednesdays to Saturdays – 8pm


BSL Interpreted Performance: 25th March 2010

Audio Described Performance: 26th March 2010

Video-link Auditorium (for wheelchair users): 19th March 2010

Tickets - £12 / £6 concessions


Oval House Theatre

52-54 Kennington Oval

London SE11 5SW




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