"a perfect storm that aptly demonstrates the strengths of such a multi-media approach"

Sightline Productions, in conjunction with Purple Radio and the Durham LGBT+ Association presents Lightly Stitched: The Trans and Gender-Diverse Project. This original multimedia audio drama follows five students, based off the lives of trans and gender diverse interviewees from around Durham. This audio-visual experience seeks both to highlight the difficulties faced by young trans people, and explore the process of better understanding one’s gender identity.

The result, co-directed by Lim Jia Ying, Imogen Marchant and Zara Ewen, is a moving production that is both sombre and uplifting. Equal parts audio play and visual presentation, Lightly Stitched narrates the lives of its characters through a mixture of monologues and dialogues, amidst a backdrop of evocative imagery. Anna Bodrenkova, as video editor, has done sterling work in carefully choosing visuals which highlight the headspaces of the cast. Sometimes these are more abstract, others are direct illustrations of their experiences, with beautiful artwork supplied by cast members Tommy Hämäläinen, Megali O’ Brien, and Charlie Bell.

The narrative itself regularly shifts perspective, book-ended by the story of young writer, Rain (voiced by Lim Jia Ying), as she reflects upon both her experience in the midst of lockdown, and her life since coming out as transfeminine and non-binary. From there, we move between the lives of Alex, Charlie, Brook, and Jackie, from their early years to their present student lives, each going through the steps of coming to terms with their own identity, a process both difficult and liberating in equal measure.

The voicework remains commendable throughout, with heartfelt performances across the board. Lim Jia Ying’s performance of Rain’s beautifully written inner monologue is powerfully introspective. Tommy Hämäläinen balances the task of exploring Alex’s psyche both as a child and a young-adult with aplomb. Special mention also must go to Charlie Bell and Anna Bodrenkova. Their portrayal of the bond between Charlie and Brook, each remaining unshakable sources of support to each other throughout, is incredibly moving. Magali O’Brien as Jackie is another stand-out. O’Brien excellently balances the character’s sense of frustration at his displacement from those around him with his resolve to make other people feel less alone.

The strong work of the actors goes hand in hand with the production. The music, by Robbie Styles Chan, is a wonderful unifier experimenting with a variety of styles to tell the characters’ respective stories. From the atmospheric synths that accompany Rain’s musings, to the nostalgic acoustic guitar that plays throughout Charlie and Brook’s memories, the sound design is laudable throughout. 

Perhaps the most powerfully bittersweet moment comes roughly halfway through the production, as Alex, Charlie, Brook, and Jackie come together in a podcast to share their experiences throughout lockdown. After hearing each of their stories individually, their unification as a group is extremely cathartic, and the chemistry of the cast sells this. Yet it is accompanied by a harrowing collection of headlines chronicling the damaging effects of lockdown upon people’s mental health, among which many LGBT+ youths have been hit especially hard. Headlines detailing harmful attacks and damaging legislation, which continue to make the youths’ lives even harder to this day, are especially potent. As hopeful as it is to hear these people find solidarity with each other, it is tinged with a painful reminder of the long lengths that the LGBT+ community, and especially trans and non-binary people, have to go to in order to receive equality and the freedom. It’s a perfect storm that aptly demonstrates the strengths of such a multi-media approach.

And yet it would be wrong to mistake the experience as cynical. Far from it, the directors have been vocal about their desire to not sensationalise the lives of trans people, nor treat them as objects of victimisation. While the play never shies away from the isolation many young LGBT+ people face amidst a wave of discriminatory speech, acts, and legislation, it is also keen to celebrate how hopeful the process of self-discovery can be. Listening to these youths find themselves, both separately and together, is genuinely uplifting. “I don’t want a community just based on shared grief. I want a community of joy”, Jackie ruminates. And those words resonate strongly throughout this production.

The team behind Lightly Stitched set themselves a very difficult task. Not only did they strive to create an immersive multimedia experience, but they also aimed to inform its audience of trans issues, to allow trans people at Durham to make their voices heard, and to celebrate those experiences without underplaying the difficulties involved. All this makes their success phenomenally impressive. This is an enriching, beautifully produced work of drama, one I can whole-heartedly recommend.       

Lightly Stitched: The Trans and Gender-Diverse Project is available to stream until the 11th, July.


Image credits: Sightline Productions X Purple Radio X Durham LGBT+ Association