Image Credit: Credit: Anna Bunch
Although it explores themes that are always relevant, DramaSoc’s production of Evan Placey’s 2013 play Girls Like Thatis being performed at a particularly pertinent time, in the midst of recent events such as the establishment of the American abortion laws. The play addresses gender inequality with a particular emphasis on body shaming and the tendency for young girls as well as boys to objectify and degrade female bodies. By telling the story of teenaged Scarlett whose naked picture is shared across two schools, Girls Like Thatlargely angles its lens towards the younger generation, addressing how certain mind-sets and vicious cycles are inspired and bred in the young in the midst of the toxic technological environment of today.
This DramaSoc production, directed by Burbs L. Burberry, does an excellent job of conveying these contemporary issues, creating scenes painfully similar to student audience members’ own school days. We are presented with brutal reminders of the very things that happened at our own secondary schools that we only want to forget, as the “St. Helens girls” say. This familiarity reinforces how we all take a role in these issues, conveying the implicitness and internalisation of this culture of misogyny in our society.
The production gets this across well in many respects, for example by making effective use of minimal props; the six chairs used undergo several different formations onstage, meaning that the actors are continually addressing different parts of the room – though this is largely a necessary aspect of performing in the Drama Barn venue, in this production it seems to contribute to the sense that every angle is being covered and scrutinised by the actors, because no one is free from the play’s critique.
This idea is emphasised by the fact that each actor takes on multiple characters with minimal costume alterations, making it necessary for the audience to use their imagination, for example when the school-skirt-wearing actors play teenaged boys or grown women. But rather than this being a limitation of a low budget production, the interchangeability of the school girls for other characters makes the point that these characters could be anyone; it makes it possible for the audience to insert just about anyone into the actors’ places, including themselves. Even the victim could have been or could become one of the perpetrators, an uncomfortable idea highlighted by the fact that the victim, Scarlett, and a member of the slut-shaming girl group are both played in close succession by the same actor, Immy Wood.
Wood, along with Kate Coulson, Shannon O’Shea, Lucy Finnighan, Valeria Di Pasquale and Úna Hogan, put in excellent performances, despite one or two minor wording slip-ups. Those who double as schoolboys and girls do a great job of capturing both the stereotypical ‘lad’ and ‘bitchy schoolgirl’ in their performances, bordering on just the right side of melodramatic humour. Coulson is particularly entertaining in her portrayal of a boy in the school hallway mocking another student, arousing a lot of laughs with her delivery of one especially ridiculous insult that suggests the name Jay was chosen by a boy’s mother because of what it rhymes with…
The other comedic lines are also well delivered, notably by Hogan, who works an amusing intonation into much of her schoolgirl dialogue, injecting a feigned sophistication and overly-dramatic nature into the character. The production’s humour provides the right amount of relief from the sombreness of the subject matter, without allowing us to fully relax into it as a comedy. The episodes of dance also provide similarly cathartic intervals, with the standout performer in these scenes being Di Pasquale, whose dancing was of a noticeably high quality. Occasionally the dancers were not all quite as tight as they could have been, but the dances undoubtedly did their job of entertaining and breaking up some of the more serious scenes.
Perhaps the most memorable of these graver moments is the fight scene performed by Wood and Hogan. They do an excellent job of enacting some convincing looking head slams into the ground, and their wide-ranging use of space during the fight creates a frantic and violent atmosphere, successfully sobering the audience. The faint whimper from Wood at the close of the scene is particularly effective, coming at the same time as darkness falls. Indeed, the use of lighting in this scene is invaluable, contributing to the frantic pacing and panic with flashing strobe lighting during the fight, and ending, as many scenes in this play do, in pitch blackness, leaving each audience member alone for a solemn few seconds.
Giving us humour and food for thought as well as great performances, this DramaSoc production is well worth the watch. Pointing out the contradictions and double standards surrounding our attitudes towards women and female beauty standards, as well as high school friendships and loyalty, thisGirls Like Thatproduction manages to direct a critical gaze towards men and women, young and old alike, addressing everyone’s role in gender inequality.
Credit: Anna Bunch