Walking quietly on stage in a top bearing the word “Boobs”, Selina Jenkins immediately recounts how she woke up confused and disorientated in a hospital bed in Florida nine years ago. Her chest was tightly bandaged and she felt like she’d been cut in half by a freight train.
It’s an intense start to the performance, but then Jenkins sharply switches the mood, stepping back into the present to welcome the audience, laugh at the fact that we’ve bought tickets to a show called Boobs and warn that there’s going to be “a lot” in the next hour.
Some locals will already be familiar with the Melbourne-based musician, writer and cabaret artist from her performances at Adelaide Fringe and Feast festivals with the multi-award-winning solo show Beau Heartbreaker, in which she adopts the character of a bearded Aussie dairy farmer. In Boobs, Jenkins is herself, sharing her own journey to undergo elective surgery to have both her breasts removed, not because she had cancer or was transitioning, but because they never felt right and they made her deeply unhappy.
“Knobs, jugs, funbags… not so fun for everyone,” she sings in one of a collection of songs with clever lyrics that have plenty to say about issues such as identity, gender stereotyping and body autonomy but are also witty and beautifully sung. Once they’re nicely warmed up mid-show, the audience members in the intimate venue of the Quartet Bar barely hesitate before loudly joining in the chorus of a song that urges we “take the tit out of identity”.
Jenkins’ classical vocal training is evident in Boobs, but she also proves to be an engaging storyteller with excellent timing and a wonderful range of facial expressions. The re-enactment of her awkward and invasive visits to a psychiatrist – necessary to gain approval for the surgery – is moving and disturbing, while her account of the actual hurricane that followed the metaphorical storm surrounding her decision is shockingly hilarious.
Through her performance, Jenkins skewers many of society’s double standards, but the one that’s most confounding is the lengths individuals (whether they identify as women, non-binary or trans) are forced to go through for this type of elective top surgery compared to if they wanted a breast augmentation or myriad other cosmetic procedures.
She was right, there is a lot in Boobs, but the audience – on this night at least – is with her for the entire journey, through the grief, the laughter, the perplexity and, ultimately, the joy that comes from “the best decision I’ve ever made”. A decision that resulted in her finally feeling good in her own skin and gave her parents the child they’d always wanted: A happy one.
Selina Jenkins is presenting Boobs in the Quartet Bar in the Festival Theatre Foyer until June 19.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.