Pros: Outstanding performances from a strong cast, a sharp script and ingenious projections bring this story vividly to life.
Cons: None whatsoever.
Front and centre is a large double bed – a bed that serves as a bath, a beach, a place of refuge and a place of seduction. It’s at the very core of Marielle Heller’s play, a constant brooding presence.
The Teenage Girl of the title is Minnie, a 15-year-old living on the top floor of an apartment block in San Francisco in 1976. As the audience enters she’s sitting on the bed in a nylon nightdress, scribbling furiously in her sketchbook. The play begins with her declaring her intention to create an audio diary, narrated into her cassette player. And so she relates the story of her life living with her younger sister (who’s never seen) and her mother, a bohemian, liberated librarian played with authentic 1970s style by Rebecca Trehearn.
The real problem is the mother’s boyfriend, Monroe, a sleazy chancer played to greasy perfection by Jamie Wilkes. He idly lets his hand slip onto Minnie’s breast, and it’s only a few scenes before he seduces her. Except this isn’t the simple story of a predatory male; Minnie is desperate for experiences to record in her diary, and it’s her determination to get laid that pushes Monroe – with some initial reluctance – past the taboo barrier. Minnie is convinced that this could be her only chance: ‘Monroe is the most handsomest man in the world,’ she declares. ‘And I’m not attractive at all.’
Minnie’s two confidantes are her best friend, the slutty Kimmie, whose main concern is whether to iron her hair straight (a perfect performance by Saskia Strallen) and her academic former stepfather, Pascal (Mark Carroll) who tries to improve her mind by sending her articles on memory retention in flies and describes Monroe as ‘that neanderthal’. But her real interest is in drawing comic books, as she writes to her graphic novelist hero – the play itself is based on a graphic novel, with a film version released in 2015.
The towering star of the show is Rona Morison as Minnie, who produces a dazzling, utterly convincing performance as a girl teetering between childhood and adulthood – sometimes a grown woman, sometimes a petulant teenager. Despite being a decade older, she captures the adolescent persona to perfection.
Special mention must go to Nina Dunn, the video designer whose projections add hugely to the production. Splashed across the back wall, her animations turn the bed into a bath, caption the scenes with cassette titles, and depict Minnie’s graphic illustrations. The strongest moment is when, during Minnie’s experimentation with acid, the perfectly synchronised projections make the 1970s wallpaper crawl and pulsate.
The cast look and sound exactly right for their roles, and this note-perfect production flows with ease and elegance. I can’t imagine it being better performed or staged.
Author: Marielle Heller
Director: Alexander Parker
Producer: Atomicus Entertainment
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
Booking Link: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/the-diary-of-a-teenage-girl/
Booking Until: 25 March 2017