Life swaps

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The Independent Culture
Life swaps

Harvey Fierstein once observed, "put a straight actor in a dress and they give him a Oscar". Such things are a touch fashionable at the moment but it's rare for women to play men's roles. Laura Benson's performance in Masculin / Masculine, Memories of an Hermaphrodite may cause more than a few ripples. The play is based on the bizarre but true story of Adelaide Herculine Barbin who was raised as a woman in the confines of 19th-century French convent life, but with the onset of the sexual urges of adolescence was forced to adopt the gender of a man, becoming Abel Barbin. The autobiography discovered at her/his death paints a fascinating portrait of sexual confusion and depair which has already inspired work by writers as diverse as Michel Foucault and Caryl Churchill. Benson's performance is unlikely to cause the same kind of noise as Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, but it looks like being a good deal less mannered.

`Masculin/Masculine, Memories of an Hermaphrodite', Gate Theatre, W11 (0171-229 0706) from 11 Apr