What puts the ‘toxic’ in toxic masculinity? May Contain Traces Of Nuts. looks to answer that question with quirky grunge charm, a slice-of-life atmosphere, and a rich no-frills story-world. It’s the anniversary of Noah’s death, and his friends have gathered to remember in their own ways, be that gorging on weed brownies, getting fucked up at the pub, or having an existential crisis about their own futures. Meanwhile, at the heart of it all, Frankie finds themselves accepting their trans-masculinity, and betwixt a drug-induced haze finds clashes over conflicting pasts, misunderstood presents, and collapsing futures. This is a gorgeously performed, rough ‘n’ ready coming-of-age trans story with a collection of loveable characters at its’ heart.
Entering into the basement setting of the show, we’re offered up a brownie on the door – don’t worry, nothing sinister, though the hilarity of our decision to take one soon becomes evident. We’re greeted by a densely packed stage, with beanbags, a mini-fridge, and four intriguing young characters piled up on top of each other. We soon learn that they’ve gathered to remember, to mourn, and to carry on their grieving process – which involves an ephemeral sense of remembering. A tray of edibles, games of shithead, MarioKart, and a sense that big change is looming in front of them.
Frankie is a trans-masculine person, trying to find out how to feel comfortable in their new identity. Surrounding him, cowboy-boot wearing Jago is desperate to leave rural Devon for the life in London that already seems to suit him. Mia is heading off to Leeds for University, while Shay is desperate to convince her farmer boyfriend Digger that it’s time to leave a rural life behind for something else, something ‘more’. A powerful sense of place-less-ness and place-full-ness flows through the interactions between the friends, as they look to part ways this moment of remembrance is also a grieving of lives they are about to leave behind.
It isn’t long before calamity strikes – Frankie finds the brownies in the fridge and scoffs the lot. This sets off a kaleidoscopic spiral that sees the audience flitter between the real world and Frankie’s paranoid imagination. The moments of the real chime with gritty candour – I feel as though I’ve been in this room before, with alcohol and weed hazing up decisions, throwing hearsay punches into the dark that leave little left unsaid. The moments in Frankie’s imagination writhe with the uncanny and grisly realities of grieving a life ended far too young, as Frankie sees himself descend quite literally into the earth, Digger appears to lay waste to Frankie’s newfound hope in his trans identity. Trans-ness is a meaning-of-being for Frankie, not just a calling but a natural sense of who he is, and this is quickly punctured by the grips of toxic masculinity.
The performances across the board offer a sense of real-ness that transcends the dark subject matter of the piece to grip you entirely. The characters and the world they live in feels so tangible and accessible for the audience, to the point you can easily see why each of them are looking for their own escapes, be that in indulgence or departure. Memory is a fraught concept in this piece – for a night in which these friends look back on Noah’s life there is a constant sense of presence, mortality is expressed in debauchery and escape rather than reminiscence of times gone by. This powerful expressive stance on grief is achieved by the electric chemistry of the performers on stage, who simply sink into one another in the way that childhood friends do.
Thea Stedman-Jones’ Frankie is a revelation. They manage to successfully maintain ‘high’ acting across the hour in a way that feels crisp and real, rather than an exaggerated representation of a drug high which is so rampant in other forms of media. Their relationship to gender is unpacked piecemeal, and Frankie is never defined by their trans identity, instead it wraps them in a gloss. He is still unsure of what sort of man he is, terrified yet excited by changes in his future, unsure how he slots into the masculine world that has conditioned his cisgender friends. Stedman-Jones unwraps a cocooned Frankie across the hour and with painstaking anxiety reveals a trans truth that is situated in the real. I haven’t seen a piece of media represent trans-ness in such a visceral, intuitive, and accessible manner in some time.
Other character-driven highlights include Tom Cain’s Jago, who revels in a sense of queer purpose. Jago’s deepfelt love for his friends is clear, even though his rural upbringing cascades against his sense of purpose. He is a little bit of a scene stealer too, grasping our attention for a witty side comment or relatable offhand joke just when it’s needed. Louise Coggrave’s Mia often finds herself caught in the middle of it all, and she does an excellent job of portraying the spiralling struggles of her friendship circle that she’s desperately trying to keep buoyant. I think we all knew a couple like Bella Chapman’s Shay and Alfie Cook’s Digger – so inseparable their identities have become intertwined yet fractured. Their chemistry together is palpable, and their arguments pop with realistic fizz.
Technically, the piece is contemplative, stark, and flickers between moments of stillness and fracture. Light and sound bathe and bask the characters in the fascia of their decisions – dark washes bleed onto Frankie as he sinks into the ground while iconic new Britrock tunes provide moments of unity and solace for our ruptured and rattled group. While Celestine Stilwell’s script is dark, the piece never loses the sense of community in face of a harsh and unforgiving upbringing amongst the group. Its’ character-driven nature sucks you in, to the very last minute where the noise of the so-called “Trans Debate” rises in climactic fear. It’s beautifully unwound, and soaks you in a mixture of joy and grief that has come to define these characters as they go into the adult world for the first time.
Fresh, unyielding, and powerfully character-driven, May Contain Traces of Nuts. is a sucker-punch coming-of-age drama with deeply loveable characters that bind you into their cathartic way of letting each other go. This is some of the very best late night drama you’ll find at the Fringe.
Recommended Drink: May Contain Traces of Nuts. is best paired with a Nutty Alexander – crisp, granular, and smooth to the taste.
Catch May Contain Traces of Nuts. at TheSpaceTriplex – Studio, until August 19th (not the 13th). Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.