Extraordinary story of Irish-born trans soldier Albert Cashier explored in new play

GCN had a chat with Quintessence Theatre about its new original play The Curious Case of Albert Cashier: Lincoln's 'Lady' Soldier.

Photo from the play The Curious Case of Albert Cashier, showing actors dressed as soldiers looking to the audience and singing.
Image: Quintessence Theatre

A thrilling new play titled The Curious Case of Albert Cashier: Lincoln’s ‘Lady’ Soldier is kicking off its national tour on Thursday, September 14. The play tells the incredible story of Albert Cashier, a Louth-born transgender war hero who enlisted with the Union Army in the American Civil War.

GCN had a chat with Anna Simpson, the Artistic Director at Quintessence Theatre, who told us all about the new play and how it came about.

What prompted you to devise a show about Albert Cashier?
One of the members of the company, Leah Rossiter, came across Albert’s story and brought it to us as one we could potentially turn into a play. Not only were we blown away by it, but shocked that we, and many others, had never heard of him before, despite him being this great figure of Irish history.

Initially, we thought Albert Cashier was one of the many women who disguised themselves as men in order to secretly enlist to fight in the American Civil War. However, it became quickly apparent to us through our research that he was in fact what we would understand today to be a trans man. Academics and historians have, and continue, to argue around this, but for us, it was a foregone conclusion: just from the way Albert conducted himself and chose to live his life, there was no other way to respectfully and truthfully interpret his story, and nor would we want to.

This discovery acted as even greater creative fuel and made us more excited and passionate about retelling his extraordinary story. As a company, one part of our mission statement is to give a platform to voices and stories not often heard, and this story was crying out to be told.


How did you research the piece?
To immerse yourselves fully in Albert’s life, you first have to understand the facts of the world he inhabited socially, politically, and economically. So each member of the company was assigned an area of relevant in-depth historical research to dive into, and they then took turns presenting their findings to the rest of the creatives – a bit like doing a project presentation in school!

But the most important element of the research was working with Outcomers Drogheda, conducting in-depth interviews with trans people about their lives and experiences. We interwove these into the story, along with the historical facts we had, to ensure the play had as much emotional truth as historical truth, as well as actively parallel Albert’s life with the struggles trans people continue to face today.

How did the process of devising the show work?
After an in-depth research period, we like to devise collaboratively and organically: we sketch out possible scenarios and characters that we think would best tell different parts of Albert’s story, scrawling our thoughts and ideas across reams of A3 paper, before sticking these up around the room to guide us throughout the process. Then, the actors improvise around these characters and scenarios at length, and multiple times, with small changes so we end up with multiple versions of the same scenes.

We film all of them and then I, the director, take this footage away and write the physical script, using the improvisations the actors have produced as the source – often verbatim – and adding polish, historical details, some of my own ideas, as well as making adjustments where needed to the structure so the narrative flows. I then bring this back to the company and we do a collective editing session to reach a final version of the play.

It’s a unique, exciting, and deeply collaborative way to create work where there is no one playwright, as is traditional in classical and contemporary theatre. Instead every artist has creative ownership of the piece. And that’s never been more true than with this play. All of the creative team became so deeply invested in Albert’s story through the devising process that they developed a very real affection for him, almost as if he were a friend they knew, which only enhances the beauty, passion, and respect with which they tell his story.


What does it mean to bring a historical trans person to life?
Giving Albert theatrical life also means giving a voice to an increasingly marginalised and attacked community through joyous live entertainment. It means unearthing a hopeful gem of Irish LGBTQ+ history that presents firm evidence that trans people have always existed and have always fought against social stigma and ostracisation with strength, grace, and tenacity.

But more than that, Albert’s story is an epic inspiration for all, regardless of gender identity. He did one of the most difficult but rewarding things a person can do with their lives in the face of insurmountable odds: he lived with complete authenticity. He is an inspirational LGBTQ+ figure whom we could all afford to learn something from. He certainly changed the lives of the artists in the company, and it is a great privilege to bring Albert Cashier to life on stage and bring his story back to his homeland.

What can audiences expect from the show?
They can expect a thrilling tale that spans half the globe and half a century of Albert’s extraordinary life: from stowing away to America, becoming a Union hero in the American Civil War, before fighting an even greater war over his very identity after being cruelly outed by a rabid American press.

They can expect this through 130 minutes of high-octane theatricality, as an insanely talented ensemble of just 5 actors uses multi-roling, movement, mime, mixed with a stunning design and multimedia elements of music and projection, to create the entire world of Albert’s life from birth to battles.

Audiences can expect to be swept up on an epic journey of one man’s incredible life, to feel inspired, to feel moved; to laugh and to cry, and, hopefully, to either understand and empathise with the trans community more than they did before or, if already part of that community, to see themselves reflected truthfully on stage. With the recent rise in anti-trans sentiment both globally and here in Ireland, sadly, it seems all the more crucial to share Albert’s story with the world now than it did back when we first presented the play in March 2020, and all the more important to remind people that trans folks have always existed. We know audiences will fall in love with Albert and all his accomplishments, just as we did, and we cannot wait to share him with you all.

Find more information and book tickets to see The Curious Case of Albert Cashier: Lincoln’s ‘Lady’ Soldier in Irish theatres at this link.

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