She’s made it! A sell-out, five star run at Edinburgh, Soho Theatre transfer, bombshell performance on Friday Night Live, and now this: a night at the Palladium, London’s largest theatre. We are witnessing the birth of a star — and it’s ‘the best night of her life.’

Credit: Dylan Woodley

Jordan Gray knows just how to work the crowd — it’s in her lyrical physicality, her perfect timing, her many squeals of excitement, and her outbursts of self-love. But this is not just a random flash from the blue into stardom. She’s had her sights set on the prize of being, well, a prize — a national treasure — for many years now. ‘How many of you know me from The Voice?’ she asks the crowd, her appearance in 2016 serving as early proof of her potential for mainstream success. And here she is again, showcasing her daring, confident, and wildly high-ranging vocal style alongside her particular brand of — as she puts it — ‘female Russell Brand’ in-your-face energy.

Is It a Bird? is a musical stand-up routine about superpowers. It embraces the political urgency of a trans woman unapologetically sharing her best brilliant self with the world using the fiercely banterous wit of a hugely imaginative thinker and larger-than-life performer. Every fibre of her being flows into this performance, which eats up the stage with such a tightly controlled sense of chaos it’s impossible not to be swept into her whirlwind of stories, jokes, and songs. There is no shyness in confronting the comedic potential of being a woman with a penis, and the outspokenly trans perspective opens up opportunities for a multitude of dick jokes, reflections on identity, fluidity, and women’s only spaces (the candle section at TK Maxx), and quips about the paradox of ‘bigots’ being happy to give their dogs human names, whilst still unable to accept her as a woman.

There is a huge amount of poignancy in a show whose closing refrain is, ‘If I’m a joke then I might as well be in on it,’ especially given its capacity to speak to a so-often misrepresented community. ‘A young trans girl saw the segment on Friday Night Live, and now no longer wants to hurt herself.’ But Gray keeps the ball well and truly in the air, playing us through musical numbers that explore a woman’s deepest, darkest revelation (that she is gluten intolerant), the surprisingly logical ‘fact’ that ‘Jesus was a Zombie,’ and fighting back waves of misinformation by clarifying that ‘nobody asked for a gender neutral Potato Head.’

Having seen this show in Edinburgh, it’s fascinating to observe what’s changed in the transition from what was effectively a shipping container to a 2,000+ seated proscenium arch. And what’s amazing is that it’s not that much! There is some extra material to make up the timing demands of a two act set — more scathing commentary on how vapid the music industry has become — and a feeling of occasion with Gray’s wife, mum, and dad all being in the audience. But the performance, delivery, and tone are all so consistent with its previous iteration that it keeps all the madness and intimacy that made the original so exciting.

I cackled, cried, and whooped for Gray. She works every moment of her material to take up space and places her experience firmly in the spotlight for all to see. It’s irreverent, joyous, and extraordinarily well-crafted. She says ‘ironically for a trans person’ that she doesn’t like things to change. (She’s talking about pop music.) But this is a watershed moment for trans visibility. It’s also a really great show! Both of these sit side-by-side, and the result is simply electric. Rarely does comedy feel so important.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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