Thursday, 27 February 2014

Café culture, Indiana style

Rachael Jones is a remarkable woman.

Not merely for the fact that until a few years ago, Rachael was living as Eric, a married man with three children, in a "redneck" Bible-belt community in the MidWest, but also for the fact that - on finding herself somewhat shunned by "mainstream" employers, and without any capital or even culinary experience - she opened her own business there, in the middle of Bloomington, the "Gateway to Scenic Southern Indiana."

Rachael's Café - with its mission "to bring understanding, education, and acceptance over a cup of coffee" - was born. And when British overseas student of drama Lucy Danser stumbled across the place she was so inspired, she wrote a play about it!

“The reason the café exists, is when she was living as Rachael, she couldn’t find a job anywhere... no one would accept her,” she said. “So she took out a loan from a friend and put everything on the line to bring the cafe to life. It was the bravest thing I had seen anyone do."

And Paul and I went to see the second show in the London première run of Rachael's Café last night.

"For anyone relatively unaware of what being transgender means, this ordinariness, this ability to see things as they are without great angst, without reference to sex, without the remotest tinge of the bizarre, is probably the greatest strength of this play." - Andie's Place.

It is often confusing how to react when one explores of the unknown; in this case, heterosexual transgender identity. From many perspectives - straight, gay or otherwise - this particular way of life is extraordinarily complicated, to say the least. It is a mark of just how admirable Rachael really is, and the skill of Graham Elwell who portrays her so brilliantly, that none of these complications and confusions seem to matter when we are drawn into the "conversation" with this gentle character. Eric/Rachael had more than his/her fair share of tragedy, not least the devastating affair between his wife and best friend, suicide and bullying in the family, and the eternal angst of being a parent with a "secret", and she shares them all with us as if we were her true confidants.

It is a tour-de-force of acting by Mr Elwell, to sensitively portray a real-life person (who was herself waiting in the wings, which must have been even more nerve-wracking!) and her calm and composed dealings with bigots and bullshitters, running a business single-handed, the agonies of a new wig, and the trials of acceptance by her own children, with such dignity and poise. All this, and in heels, too!

Rachael's Café is an astounding piece of drama, worthy of far greater things than the - admittedly charming and fab - off-West End venue of the Old Red Lion Theatre, and I sincerely hope it gets the critical attention it deserves.

When Rachael herself emerged after the play, she immediately captivated us in person as much as her portrayal. As Lucy said in her recent blog, "she’s aware that people need gentle handling to deal with the unfamiliar". With sublime grace she answered all questions and comments from the audience, no matter how "left-field", and left us all with a lasting example of how - no matter how hard, no matter how challenging it may seem - we all have to live our life as we truly are...

Rachael's Café is on at the Old Red Lion, St John Street, Islington until Saturday 15th March 2014.

Camden and Islington LGBT History Month 2014


  1. Was genuinely gutted to have missed this last night - another victim of my head being all over the place with my work being so busy …

    I have now booked to see the play (with Grumpy) for Sunday March 9th : following Lucy's appearance at Polari last year and your blog, I can't wait … and yes I do have the correct date saved into my Calendar this time x

    1. You missed a rare treat - the play itself is marvellous, but meeting Rachael herself was unforgettable! Jx


Please leave a message - I value your comments!