Performance reviews: Ruff Trade and Trans Woman Kills Influencer, Midsumma Festival

‘Trans Woman Kills Influencer’ leans into the modern day, while Steven Dawson’s ‘Ruff Trade’ is a devilishly good tragedy set in 1593.
‘Ruff Trade’. Photo: Steven Dawson. Two performers in 16th century attire sitting on each side of a wooden table. One is looking toward the other, trying to make conversation.

Ruff Trade

For its opening scenes alone, Ruff Trade by Out Cast Theatre is most certainly not the type of show to take your conservative parents to. The opening dialogue stretches out over a rather titillating scene with two actors getting stuck into a good rogering.

While effective, it feels that perhaps the opening scene could have been shortened to build on its impact – here, less is more.

Ruff Trade is a three-hander between actors Matthew Newell, Liam O’Kane and Gabriel Partington. Each character is played with varying levels of success by the ensemble. 

At its heart, Ruff Trade is a classic tragedy that also employs comedic tropes to lull its audience into a false sense of security. It tells the story of a male sex worker in Deptford, London 1593, and his two clients-cum-lovers. With a well-written script by Steven Dawson, who also directed the work, Ruff Trade tells an intriguing story.

The pace of the performance is excellent, aided by its short 40-minute runtime. The show’s dramatic crescendo “cracks” suddenly with no pre-warning, making its final scenes all the more impactful. 

This reviewer attended the opening night (23 January) and witnessed some technical issues on the night. As a whole, it felt as if Ruff Trade needed to settle into itself a little more for the show to really hit the mark.

Sometimes even the best of intentions and artistic choices can be hampered when transferred from the studio to stage. This weakness can be seen in Ruff Trade with the later scenes involving floor work. With the set-up of the black box theatre at Motley Bauhaus, audiences sitting further back would not be able to properly see these later scenes. 

But, all in all, Ruff Trade is rough diamond that has a lot of potential.


Ruff Trade by Out Cast Theatre is performing from 23 January to 10 February at The Motley Bauhaus as part of Midsumma Festival 2024; tickets.

Trans Woman Kills Influencer 

Trans Woman Kills Influencer is billed as a “murder mystery” written by Dax Carnay. However, if the performance had even just a little “mystery”, then it certainly would have been a far more compelling story. From the outset, the title of this work tells us exactly what is about to transpire, making the journey to get there all the more arduous.

As it stands, the story is repeated three times, each from the perspective of another character – this narrative structure feels dragged out. Perhaps editing these scenes down further each time to home in on particular differences could have improved this approach.

While well-acted by Carnay, Khema De Silva, Vateresio Tuikaba and Ryan Henry, the direction of their performances results in overacting, where tighter control would be ideal in terms of both emotion and pace.

Trans Woman Kills Influencer does, to varying levels of success, tackle some pretty hefty subject matter, such as cancel culture and transphobia. But, overall, the work never seems aware of the tone that it wishes to portray. Is it a comedy? Well, not exactly. Is it a searing dramatic piece that tears down the patriarchy? Sadly not.

Also unclear is why in this performance, characters speak in American accents when there is nothing in the show that roots it to a US-based setting. The production could have been made all the stronger if it had leaned into and incorporated local accents and iconography. This is made all the more jarring with opening projections set in Melbourne’s Federation Square.

Read: Performance reviews: The Search and Trevor Ashley: The (First Annual) Farewell Show, Midsumma Festival

However, the set design is sleek, with the smart use of vertical blinds to separate the stage. This creates an excellent effect that splits up various scenes, as well as acts as a screen for video and moving image projections.

Trans Woman Kills Influencer has its merits, but could be improved with further development.


Trans Woman Kills Influencer is performing from 27 January to 4 February at La Mama as part of Midsumma Festival 2024; tickets.

This review is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Jessi Ryan (they/them) has been creating performance and exhibitions for the past 20 years, both locally, nationally and abroad- in this time collaborating with a huge number of artists from a broad cross section of cultural backgrounds. As a journalist they have written for and been published by some of Australia’s leading arts and news editorial across the last 10 years-and was recognised as a finalist for Globe Community Media Award in 2021. Ryan has also taken photos for a number of print and online publications.