‘Girls will be Girls’, showing at the BT this week, is a sharp, witty and insightful piece of new writing from Ella Langley. Set over the course of 24 hours, it tells the story of seven girls waiting for their precious Oxford letters. Each character portrays different challenges posed by modern womanhood, but between them all runs a common thread, a tangible community, a shared experience of growing up. Its immediate precedent is obviously ‘The History Boys’, an influence it wears on its sleeve, even referencing it in one of the classroom scenes. However, where Alan Bennet’s play now feels dated, ‘Girls will be Girls’ is fresh and exciting. This is the sort of feminist coming-of-age tale we see all too rarely. It offers 50 minutes of comedy, drama and social commentary, managing to be heady, anarchic and often very moving.
The play starts with an acapella cover of ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’ as the seven girls act out their morning routines. Last minute essays, arguments with parents, excuses to avoid eating – for each character, we get a snapshot of different lifestyles, attitudes and problems. Inventive direction, brilliant acting, and challenging themes alongside witty one-liners in this scene signal what we are to expect from the rest of the piece.
What is most impressive about this production is how skilfully each actress draws their character. Like the opening, many of the scenes are staged with more than one line of action, so the task of distinguishing the individuality of every girl naturally becomes harder – but the talented cast all rise to the challenge. Details like sarcastic eye rolls, murmurings and thumbs up add detail to the classroom scene and create a whole new level of comedy and realism. Natasha Sarna gives a confident, charismatic and believable performance, standing out as being totally in control of the material, her style working perfectly with the writing. Elsewhere, Georgina Botham’s anxious interjections are consistently funny, although she sometimes feels underused. Anousha Al-Masud is focused, frank and engaging. Lara Marks may play the snootiest of the lot but when she lets the audience in to her character’s insecurities, the contrast feels truthful and genuinely upsetting.
As a piece of new-writing, the language is also strikingly accomplished. We get a real sense of how sixth-formers communicate, dialogue peppered with the usual teenage verbal tics. The only point where ideas start to feel clunky is in some of the toilet-cubicle monologues where Langley’s broad metaphors feel slightly labored. References to internal prisons, belts, whistling kettles, and the ‘herculean effort’ of surviving jar with the rest of the play and don’t seem as honest as some of the simpler language. The brief line ‘I am too big’, for example, carried far more weight and felt both devastating and truthful.
Set on a thrust stage, this show puts us right back in the classroom, and its power comes from how quickly it makes you remember what Sixth Form felt like. It will be interesting to see how audiences react to the constant references to Oxford applications in the production’s Fringe run – but even if they don’t land as well as they do here, there is so much that still strikes home. You can’t help but feel nostalgic seeing all the girls get into pairs to speak broken French about their summer holiday and their favorite hobby.
At the end of the performance, in the small space of the BT, the audience could hear the actors giggling offstage. This energy and unabashed sense of feminist fun is the driving force for the show and a delight to experience. I was sad the show was over when the lights came up, although I have to say I don’t miss school one bit.