Following a self-out, one night performance in Cambridge, Maria Telnikoff brings her autobiographical one-woman show to London for a five night stint at Barons Court Theatre. Based on Maria’s own childhood, My Dad Wears a Dress promises to be a joyful exploration of what it’s like growing up with a transgender parent. Mummy and Crotchet were invited to check out the opening night performance.
With a title like My Dad Wears a Dress you might expect the focus of the show to be on Maria’s Dad but it’s not really, and we never really see anything from her Dad’s perspective. This is primarily a show about growing up, which will be relatable for anyone who either has a child or once was a child. Over the course of the hour, Maria recounts tales of childhood rites of passage, from the first day of school to playing a mouse in the school’s latest twist on the nativity, and making grand Valentine’s Day gestures to classmates in the form of personalised Thornton’s chocolates. Then there are the everyday flashbacks that many will find familiar, including running for the school bus with a stomach full of Cheerios because your parents won’t let you have Frosties for breakfast, and lying to your friends about what what you watch on TV because your parents ban that too.
Throughout all these anecdotes there is a running theme of wanting to fit in and becoming increasingly self-conscious as you grow up. So while early childhood recollections reference Maria’s Dad in a very matter of fact manner, we see her become more concerned about being seen to be different as she gets older. While Maria draws a picture of her Dad in a dress on her first day of school, by year 3 she feels the need to keep her Dad’s identity a secret from all but her best friend. A big role in the school play takes on a greater significance when she is torn between pride that her parents have come to watch her and fear about whether her classmates will think she has two mums. As she grows again we see this fear combine with a frustration about living in a binary world. Why are all Fathers’ Day cards covered in pictures of balding men who like beer and football? And why does she have to use the masculine possessive determiner to refer to her Dad in French class?
Telnikoff’s writing is sharp and witty, and she is an assured and very likable performer who does a great job of interacting with the audience in a small space. Unlike the younger selves she embodies, she seems very comfortable in her own skin and is not afraid to embarrass herself in the name of entertainment. She makes good use of costumes and music to set each scene, while the set effectively evokes memories of being in a classroom, and a slideshow projecting childhood photos works well to reinforce the very personal nature of the show.
Overall, My Dad Wears a Dress is an entertaining production which celebrates difference and promotes acceptance. While based on Telnikoff’s personal experiences of growing up with a transgender parent, it will surely resonate for anyone who has ever felt different.
My Dad Wears a Dress plays at Barons Court Theatre from 22 to 26 November 2022. We received complimentary press tickets to the performance on Tuesday 22 November.