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At the World Puppetry Festival in France, a theatre company from Finland presents the play John-Eleanor, which questions popular and legal perceptions of prostitution and transexuality both today and more than six hundred years ago. A mediaeval history lesson is an unexpected bonus at this Festival, one of the biggest in the World.
Scholar-cum-actor Tom Linkenen is on stage in casual attire presenting the facts about John Rykener, a cross-dressing man who lived in the late fourteenth century.
Rykener was arrested in London and charged with immorality. He'd been caught having sex with another man. But he was dressed as a woman at the time and went by the name of Eleanor apparently because it was a way of making more money as a prostitute. At the end, Linkenen reveals this story "may or may not be true.
He draws a few laughs when he unashamedly protrudes his belly, as fellow cast member Linkenen tells the audience that was the ideal feminine shape at the time. With the magic of puppetry and a bit of impolite language, he makes us believe in the characters and laugh at quite a sad story. However, Vantsi says that John, who was let off by the court it seems, was not a sad character, "he was bold, brave and self-important. He was a survivor. The play premiered six years ago.
It talks about laws in England centuries ago that prohibited homosexuality and homosexual acts. Similar laws still exist in some countries today. Partly they say for economic reasons, but also for safety. The well-researched piece also broaches taboos that still exist in varying degrees, about prostitutes for example.