Ed Day, who describes themself as trans non-binary, talks to SARAH SINGLETON about their new show

GENDER, a hot topic in the media of late, is also the topic of Swindon-born actor Ed Day’s new show, Too Pretty To Punch.

The show will enjoy an outing as a work-in-progress at Swindon’s Shoebox Theatre on April 15 – a combination of comedy songs about gender, poems, spoken word and projected film. Ed says the show started off as a light piece but evolved as time went on.

“The more I got into it, the more serious it became. There is a lot of comedy in the show, but I started talking about deep-seated problems with how we speak about gender, and the things that constrain people.”

The show involves experimentation with animation and projection mapping, including using Wii remotes to operate the show.

Ed, 33, describes themself as transgender non-binary – and chooses the use of the third person pronoun rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’. They explained what the description trans non-binary means to them.

“I use trans as an umbrella term, to mean gender non-conforming people who feel uncomfortable in their gender, in a physical sense or socially. That covers a lot of people. Non-binary means I have mild dysphoria,” they said. “For me, it’s more about my body than the social stuff. I’m not incredibly feminine.”

Gender dysphoria, according to the NHS, is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their sense of gender identity. As a non-binary person, Ed dresses and presents in clothes and styles which, in our culture, range across the gender divide.

Ed grew up in Swindon and went to Bradon Forest School, before heading off to the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts in London. From 2010 to 2012, Ed attended L’Ecole Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq – a famous school of physical theatre in Paris. “It was quite a harsh school,” Ed said. “It’s great but very severe – the teachers are looking for perfection.”

A performance in a sketch show at school with friends, aged 14, inspired Ed to consider acting as a profession.

“I got drafted in at the last minute,” they said. “It was so much fun. I thought, this is a job I can do.” Drama teacher David Calder, who had inspired Ed, is now their stage manager and lighting designer.

Now Ed has spent 10 years working as a freelance actor, in a variety of productions ranging from Shakespeare and physical theatre to children’s theatre. In 2014, they created a new show called In the Surface of a Bubble – about a girl struggling to come to terms with a transgender parent. Inspired by anime and martial art films, it transports the audience to an alternate universe where people need only imagine something for it to come true.

“This was a four-hander, with masks and puppets. We ran workshops, and took it to Edinburgh,” Ed said.

Last year Ed toured Super Hamlet 64, a one-person remake of Hamlet in the style of a computer game, which will continue to tour this year. It combines original spoken word, with Shakespearean speeches and videogame quotes.

“In Shakespeare’s play, Ophelia is a bit wet, but in my version she is the hero, and Hamlet is a non-player character. There’s a lot of video projection too,” Ed said.

Too Pretty To Punch also uses projections on to three screen surfaces, and has original music written by Devon musician Billy Bottle. Ed hopes to take the show into community venues, once it reaches completion.

A new project called The Vulture Song will begin in Leeds in April, involving Ed in a performance about the partition of India, and families being torn apart in the ensuing division and violence.

Ed came out to their parents as transgender three years ago.

“I first realised at about the age of five, a feeling I was supposed to be female, though for me it was quite mild,” they said. “For some people it is just overwhelming. Often people bottle it up. You get transwomen who fight it, and pursue very masculine professions and lives, till they reach their 40s or so and then can’t take it anymore.”

Ed is also concerned about media coverage of trans issues, and hopes people will see past the headlines to the individuals.

“I am just a person. If people can get past the prejudice, they will see it shouldn’t matter. It involves a small fraction of the population and the issue has been blown out of all proportion.”

To Pretty to Punch will also be performed at Salisbury Arts Centre on April 20, and the Alma Tavern in Bristol on April 22. www.edwardday.co.uk.