I have to confess that Evan Placey’s play, which focuses on a group of ten schoolgirls/young women in its dissection of slut-shaming, cyber-bullying and the pressures and tensions within female peer groups, was new to me before this performance. It’s a gem. Co-commissioned by Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Theatre Royal, Plymouth and West Yorkshire Playhouse, it was first performed in 2013 and provides an ideal vehicle for groups such as the graduating students of Arts University Bournemouth. Its jumps to and fro in time, its cameo scenes that feature different members of the ensemble cast and its opportunities for verbal and physical (including dance) performance skills all make for an absorbing piece of theatre … if done well.
I’ve never done this before – or even contemplated doing it – but the cast consists of ten students on the AUB’s BA (Hons) Acting course who are (purely in alphabetical order): Sebastiana Andrade, Natalie Bonavia, Mirren Buchanan, Harriet Chattaway, Raven Essex, Georgia Gavin (as the so-long silent victim, Scarlett), Lola Hendrick, Grace Josephine, Bri Tyler and Emily Webb. I refuse to single out any for particular mention for the simple reasons that each and every one of them shone individually and within the ensemble playing that is so strong a feature of the production. By turns hilarious, moving, searing and witty, this is a tremendous example of the coming together of a fine script, assured and accomplished direction, and committed, utterly convincing playing.
An open-framed and geometric set makes particularly effective use of vertical sets of lockers that initially resemble standing stones but are utilised with great imagination and slick teamwork in a range of ways. The transitions during which the cast manipulate them and their uses within different episodes are as slick in their execution as are the actors’ dancing, use of the stage and delivery of the dialogue. The latter embraces somewhat longer monologues, two- or three-handed sub-scenes, and both quick-fire and more reflective exchanges between the whole cast: all are handled in exemplary ways by a cast who seem to be as one in thoroughly enjoying what they are presenting. Throughout, the production is energetic, the projection and enunciation excellent, and the changes of age, mood and pace beautifully-judged.
Director and academic staff member Tamsin Fessey deserves huge congratulations for weaving a tapestry of words, movement and emotions that makes the most of and undoubtedly will have challenged the abilities of her cast. She is admirably served by Rita Adeyosoye’s set, Georgina Edwards’ costume designs, Dan Parker’s lighting design and all who have contributed to the various elements of staging.
As I have said, “if done well”, this piece has much to offer. AUB’s production is done brilliantly – and I rarely use that or similarly effusive words to describe theatre performances, however excellent. Without hesitation, although I have given myself time to reflect on my initial reactions, and setting aside any distinction between amateur, student or professional productions, this is one of the very best and the most enjoyable performances that I have had the pleasure of attending in recent years – and I do get to plenty of professional theatre. If you enjoy quality theatre, the creatively channelled exuberance of youth and your tastes are not confined solely to musical-upon-musical, do everything that you can to get hold of a ticket for either of the remaining two performances on Saturday 23 November at 3.00pm and 7.30pm. Then keep an eye out for their forthcoming productions of Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle (28 – 30 November) and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (5 – 7 December).
Thank you to all involved for a memorable production – and good luck to all contributing students, on and off stage, as you prepare to move into what is a tough but exciting business.