Rachael’s Café

  • Posted on May 18, 2012 at 11:22 am

Rachael and LucyThis is Rachael Jones (R) with Lucy Danser (L). Both are amazing. Rachael has a caf&#233 in Bloomington, Indiana, where Lucy, an actress and writer, met her. The result of the meeting at the real, original Rachael’s Café, was Lucy’s first play: Rachael’s Café. From Edinburgh to Dublin and then Brighton, it has run as a fringe theatre event to tremendous reviews. This play deserves to fall off the fringe onto the mainstream stage and go big. My review is based on the performance at the Marlborough Theatre in Brighton, 17 May 2012.

The story

Eric Wininger is in his 40s, divorced and with three children. His career has been as a printer ink salesman to some pretty important places, but there is no death of a salesman here. Inside, underneath, all his life, Eric has known that the person she should live as is Rachael. This is how we meet her, in a very ordinary post-salesman setting; a lovely, warm person tidying up the café she has struggled to establish as a place to be herself and express her own sense of inclusivity. All her regulars know and love her and she is completely at home. Now she is clearing up and reflecting on her day, and her life, without sentimentality but with great and grateful honesty. ‘You can’t have it all’ might be the close, as she deals with the conflict of being herself, wanting acceptance as herself, and finding that even now she can’t keep everyone happy.

Rachael has dreams, she knows who she is, and she accepts the enormity of being different. But it makes sense to her. We might expect to see her cry (she gets close once) but she knows she fares better than many, and can still see the humour in living with others’ bigotry. Being a woman is simply part of life. There are tensions and frustrations, compromises that we know are not going to be made forever, but no raging against the cruel world, no bitterness.

For anyone relatively unaware of what being transgender means, this ordinariness, this ability to see things as they are without great angst, without reference to sex, without the remotest tinge of the bizarre, is probably the greatest strength of this play.

The performance

Graham Elwell has to be commended for his performance. The smile! The eyes! Even the impeccable soft American accent. The timing, the expression, the mood and the tone, all carried perfectly. It was a flawless performance with immense feeling by someone who even as an actor still feels terribly awkward in heels and a short skirt. Holding an audience with a brief life story for an hour in a single room with few props other than a pink broom is an impressive thing to do so well. Put five stars on his CV for this, because Graham is most definitely not Rachael, but has captured her so well. It was almost a shock, certainly a disappointment, to see Eric emerge without resentment but perhaps some resignation, at the end. And yes, Graham had learned how to put socks on over stockings and still tied a tie badly.

The play

If this is Lucy Danser’s first play, we have a lot to look forward to. As in the photo, she makes Rachael seem a quiet giant. The play evokes huge empathy, informs without being didactic, explores without making you uncomfortable, explains without argument. It is revealing in a way that no-one can come away ever seeing Rachael as other than simply a lovely person whose café is the nicest place to spend time over a hot tea or a home-cooked lunch.

It is dangerous territory. 500 metres down the road last night a massive tent continued the annual visit of the Ladyboys of Bankok, and in anywhere as diverse as Brighton, you might expect to see rather loud drag queens on a Saturday night. So what might you expect, during Festival week, from a play about – what? – a transvestite (you might think)? Writing a play that hits the mark for both cis- and trans-gender people (though maybe not for those who only cross-dress for fun or fetish) is no mean feat. The big worry is that somewhere in the performance you know you are going to squirm or cringe, that the wrong words are going to be used, that a cheap jibe will be made, that suddenly the audience might notice you there, and that maybe you and Rachael have something in common.

Perhaps I am biased, because this play also wrote a large part of my life. It touched many of the places I have been, and did it all with respect and understanding. It is not a plea against transphobia, it hardly references it, but it dissolves it. It doesn’t mean it is a safe play, but it is authentic, it is honest, and I for one hope it reaches the West End one day, that it is filmed, and shows tens of thousands more people that Rachael lives all around them, every day, getting on with life and simply being real – maybe more real than they.


Lucy, Graham, Rachel: thank you all. And Alex Drummond too, who advised and assisted personally and through the book Grrl Alex: A personal journey to a transgender identity, and without whom I might never have known this wonderful play.

And of course to Lucy’s whole entourage who have enabled this success.


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