Why Is John Lennon Wearing a Skirt?

Clare Dowie

Hill Street Theatre

From 01 August 2013 to 25 August 2013

Rating: ****

Review by David Chadderton

Claire Dowie is performing two of her "stand-up theatre" plays this year at the Hill Street Theatre: the Edinburgh première of H to He (I'm turning into a man) and a revival of her earlier play Why is John Lennon Wearing A Skirt? which premièred at the Traverse in 1990.

To clear up the title, she was a Beatles fan and was labelled a "tomboy" because she wanted to do everything that the boys could do, like wear trousers to school. She had three friends whom she nicknamed Paul, George and Ringo—she was John of course—but she didn't tell them this.

Appearing initially in school uniform, Dowie tells the story with both words and costume changes, told like a stand-up comedy act. Her friends start to wear tights and make-up and to hitch up their school skirts, but she can't see the point of this as wearing a skirt at all is restrictive (the "knicker factor") and a short skirt makes it impossible for her to do anything she wants.

Dowie talks us through parts of her life including boyfriends, trying to find a job where you didn't have to wear a skirt, the joy of the Women's Liberation Movement that turned to disappointment when she attended a meeting and finally a job in an arts centre where she was still insisting "I am a boy" to avoid playing the role of a woman prescribed for her by society.

But then something happens to her that can only happen to a woman and she has to decide whether she should abandon being fourteen to take on this responsibility. The last line is a killer.

It's all extremely cleverly put together and performed, with penetrating insight into constructed gender roles disguised as a Victoria Wood-style comedy act. The brilliant observational comedy early on is turned round to question what it means to be a woman in our society and whether a woman can avoid complying with society's requirements.

Unfortunately there was only a small audience for this powerful piece of theatre when I saw it, which threw off her comic timing a bit early on and made the pauses seem a bit too long, but once she got into the real meat of the play, her performance was full of energy and compelling.

This is a fascinating and very intelligent piece of theatre that is still able to amuse and entertain.