Review: The Sissy’s Progress is a lesson against prejudice

Nando Messias performance at Toynbee studio. Photo: Loredana Denicola: Chris Daly

Nando Messias performance at Toynbee studio. Photo: Loredana Denicola: Chris Daly - Credit: Archant

Clad in red underpants and matching heels, Nando Messias sits alone on the bare stage at the Toynbee Studios.

Theatrical remarks – pronounced in the actor’s own voice – rain down upon him like a haunted talent show contestant. Humorously intoned comments “she fell” and “she’s ridiculous” gain extra significance when you reflect on the play’s motivation, based as it is on the cruel reality of being beaten up in a homophobic attack more than a decade ago.

Similar moments of humour and darkness flash throughout the show. Dressed like Bullingdon Club toffs, the aggressors play with our protagonist like a doll, dressing and undressing him, then taunting, sometimes ignoring him. Speech loses meaning in this whirl of movement and immersion.

Messias then invites us to follow him, and a hundred-strong audience streams onto the streets, a joyful, chattering parade. The aggressors have become a marching band and onlookers stop and stare and film at this mad, happy rush.

Suddenly, we come to a halt on the same site of Messias’ assault. Our mood deflates, punctured like the balloons which drop from around Messias’ shoulders, burst by his aggressors.

Trombones and trumpets taunt and tease as the now-sinister young men circle Messias and relive his traumatic assault.

Back inside and the play comes full circle as Messias once again sits and reacts to the voice around him, appalled, anguished. But this time, the voices are only in our heads. Confronting the audience with our own prejudices, this piece forces us to be both the watchers and the watched, to begin to understand Nando’s pain.

Go to for future dates and to find out more. Phoebe Cooke

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