Pros: An innovative storytelling technique that boosts the audience’s imagination.
Cons: There’s a lot unsaid and unexplained here – it would benefit from more context
It’s the future – and it’s not looking too bright. There are blackouts, and people keep disappearing without explanation. Steph, a schoolgirl, is on a mission to find her missing friend Charlie. She finds herself out of her comfort zone in the bar where Charlie was last seen. There she meets Bell, a jaded and angry young woman who initially refuses to help with her investigation. But as the blackouts roll in and out of the bar, Bell and Steph embark on a narrative journey of discovery to figure out what really happened to Charlie.
The staging highlights the dystopian nature of the production. A chessboard of dark patterned tiles gives the illusion of being under the square glass windows in the pavement above, allowing light into the basement. Black rubber fills the space around the tiles. It’s a bleak, dark, emotive setting.
Be warned, though: this comedy is dark in every sense of the word. Parts of the play take place in absolute pitch black. Lights roar on and off, accompanied by industrial synth sounds. I jump and grab my companion’s arm more times than he and I would like to admit. It’s good setting for the uncertainty and knife-edge tension that the characters feel with the arrival of each blackout, as they never know if they’ll still be alive and well when the lights come back on – and what will happen to them when they can’t see what’s coming.
It’s creepy stuff, but ironically the segments in the dark are those in which the show truly shines. We hear the two women circling and challenging each other, moving, stomping, shuffling – and the unease, and sense of fear and uncertainty, are electric. The women engage in descriptive ‘choose your own adventure’ storytelling as they attempt to solve the mystery of the missing women – and in doing so, protective emotional layers are cast aside. The energy builds as we live out the story.
The inability to see anything heightens the imagination, and is a clever way to allow the audience to concentrate on the exceptional details coaxed out of the storytellers. It lets us see what they are describing, and it’s a harsh return to reality for the characters and the audience when the lights roar back on – even though the return of those lights should signal a return to safety.
The production does have some shortcomings. While well-acted and often funny, the characters are exaggerated caricatures of roles which aren’t particularly novel or unique: a jaded young woman with a tough upbringing who is angry at the world and doesn’t see the point of anything; and a younger woman, raised with money, privilege and the best of everything, who has a naive bravery and no real understanding for danger even though she’s had few interactions with it. It’s not that innovative, and the over-the-top reactions of each character are too predictable. But the comedic timing of the actors brings out the subtle nuances and interactions.
The show is dystopian and complex – they certainly live in an Orwellian world, with blackouts, untrustworthy police and missing people – but there’s little context or insight here. It’s not enough to say a dystopia is happening; it needs fleshing out for greater engagement with the position the two women find themselves in.
The real triumph here is the storytelling, which finds common ground between two women suffering from the same loss. The characters complete an emotional journey throughout the non-stop, action packed 80-minute performance. By the end, the walls have crumbled into the black stones the actors trod over during the performance – and the women stand tall in the light.
Author: Lulu Raczka
Director: Ali Pidsley
Producer: Imogen Clare-Wood
Box Office: 0207 383 9034
Booking Link: http://www.newdiorama.com/whats-on/a-girl-in-school-uniform-walks-into-a-bar
Booking Until: 17 February 2018