Review by Sam Waite
Quckly following an acclaimed run at this year’s Vault Festival, Tatenda Shamiso’s one-man show about identity, self-acceptance, and mountains of paperwork is now playing for a limited time in the Royal Court’s Upstairs space. Though touching on the difficulties of having his identity as a transgender man validated by the UK government as a black immigrant, No I.D. is far from being a sob story, instead managing to find a great deal of joy in its author’s journey.
The play, with only Shamiso on stage and a few other voices heard through audio files and childhood footage, is built around a largely one-sided phone call with the non-existant No I.D. Hotline. Tatenda has called the hotline in the hope of only having the lengthy and awkward conversation about why the gender and name on his documentation needs to be changed only once, and to have a trial run as his eventual call to HMRC to begin these changes for real.
It’s a testament to the light, assured hand of director Sean Ting-Hsuan Wang that his impact here is all but undetectable. Wang’s guidance of the performance feels wholly collaborative, reigning in any potential excesses to display only the most relatable, human version of Tatenda’s stories. Along with the simple but instantly effective set design by Claudia Casino, who surrounds the sofa we meet Tatenda sprawled on with cardboard boxes packed with the remnants of two different lives, the whole thing feels intimate and true, like hearing out a friend before they make this daunting call.
A funny and affecting moment finds two stacks of boxes turned to reveal traditional male and female symbols – like you’d find on a toilet or changing room door – allowing Shamiso to literally dismantle this binary in a moment of frustration. Elsewhere, prescribed gender presentation is a source of comedy, with women’s clothes pulled from boxes marked “Thandie” while Shamiso’s more comfortable attire comes from those marked “Tatenda.” This genuinely humorous attitude towards difficult subjects is refreshing and helps the audience digest potentally troubling themes.
Tatenda Shamiso, as a performer, is effortless charming and endlessly endearing. From the moment he first picks up the phone to the No I.D Hotline, dancing with increasing enthusiasm to the hold music and openly mocking the seemingly endless menus, you’re rooting for whatever success he’s aiming for. Able to move between a self-effacing humour and a quiet, solemn reflectiveness, Shamiso shows a startling amount of comfort with his audience – early on he strips to his underwear, displaying his trans body to satisfy any awkward curiosities.
As a writer, he has found the right balance of relevant, powerful themes about identity, and real intimacy and connection with a room full of strangers. His script treats Thandiwe, the girl he once believed that he was, as a character in her own right – rather than with disdain or hatred, he looks at her as an old friend who helped him become the best version of himself. Shamiso is willing to explore the dull minutae of trans existence, from the endless paperwork to the procrastination of just not feeling the name to file for a legal name change just yet.
The final role Tatenda plays here is that of competent singer-songwriter. He tells us mid-way through that as he began his hormone therapy, he made as much time and spent as much money as possible to record the voice that had made that old friend Thandie much a star in school musicals and summer camps. Afraid, he tells us, that his deepening voice may not be on par with what once was, he allows us to hear these recordings – in haunting, evocative moments he harmonises with these vocals live at his keyboard, a meeting of the person he was expected to be and the one he truly is. His final piece of music is a live rendition of what he calls “Tatenda’s first song” and is a prime example of his simple, emotive lyricism and approach to music.
Touching without being saccharine, informative without being condescending, and accessible without pandering, No I.D. is a piece open to the highs and lows, the crippling anxieties and soaring joys of finding one’s authentic self. Already a rising star behind the scenes, (most recently as assistant director on the much-lauded Streetcar Named Desire revival) Tatenda Shamiso makes it unequivocally clear with No I.D. that he is a creative force to be reckoned with, and a performer more than worthy of his accolades.
No I.D. plays at the Royal Court Theatre until May 6th.
For tickets and more information, visit https://royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/no-i-d/#book