A Life in Three Acts (4 stars)

This article is from 2009.

A Life in Three Acts

A fascinating story, engagingly told

This three-part biography, based on edited transcripts of conversations between playwright Mark Ravenhill and the performer Bette Bourne, sounds on paper like the kind of theatrical experiment that could easily go awry. Yet the raw material of Bourne’s life story is so rich, so vividly described that it’s impossible not to be drawn in.

The text has been shaped into a linear trajectory, yet it is when Bourne goes off script that the piece really comes alive. He’s a vivacious, engaging raconteur, taking in every member of the audience with his eyes and occasionally leaping to his feet to run through a routine from his lengthy performing career. His story moves from his sexual awakening while a jobbing actor in the 1950s to his radicalisation in the 1970s, life in a drag commune and later role in the creation of drag theatre collective the Bloolips, yet Bourne repeatedly refuses to be treated as a symbol or even to acknowledge his status as a trailblazer. When Ravenhill questions him about the persecution of gays in the 1950s he insists that such pressures were not applied to working class boys experimenting with their sexuality. And this piece is no mere string of fruity anecdotes: his difficult relationship with his violent father and the loss of scores of his friends from AIDS are dealt with frankly and movingly.

While presumably the script could in future be revived and performed by other actors, it’s fitting that Bourne’s life – much of which has revolved around the art of performance – should be performed by the man himself.

Traverse Theatre, 228 1404, until 30 Aug, times vary, £14–£16 (£10–£11).

Life in Three Acts

  • 4 stars

With honesty, humour and occasional anger, Bette Bourne reminisces with friend and playwright Mark Ravenhill. Bette's life is told in three stand-alone acts on consecutive days. With special guests. Visit www.traverse.co.uk for details.

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