Rachael’s Cafe

Friendly, mini-skirted Rachael spends her days serving home-cooked food and tea in the café she owns in Bloomington, Indiana. But her life isn’t as straightforward as it sounds – because Rachael was born Eric.

This one-hour solo show comes to the Brighton Fringe after a successful run at last year’s Edinburgh Festival. British writer and director Lucy Danser met Rachael’s real-life counterpart while studying at Indiana University. Rachael’s Cafe is based in part on their conversations.

It explores issues of transgender identity and discrimination in a thoughtful and funny way but doesn’t define Rachael by them. As she frets over whether to go to her daughter’s soccer ceremony as Eric or herself, we hear about her Methodist upbringing, how she met her ex-wife, and her cack-handedness with computers.

Graham Elwell brings serenity and vulnerability to the statuesque Rachael as she wipes down tables and, at one point, hands out cookies to the audience. A brightly coloured set, full of knick-knacks, evokes a café that is both her triumph and her refuge from the outside world.

Danser uses Rachael’s decision to out herself as a way of looking at the complex ripple effect one person’s actions creates in a close-knit community. It has estranged her teenage son but prompted financial backing for the café from an otherwise hard-line conservative.

Sometimes the play gets tangled up in its determination to be fair to every perspective it introduces. But we never lose the authenticity of Rachael’s voice, thanks to Elwell’s performance and Danser’s understated writing in this sensitive, quietly moving production.

First published by The Argus newspaper