Review: Girls Like That at the Nuffield Theatre

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Girls Like That is authentic, funny and physical, perfectly capturing the school journeys of a group of 20 girls and the issues that come along with it.

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“Girls Like That ruin it for everyone,” is the hook that crops up repeatedly throughout Evan Placey’s award winning play for young audiences. The play is set in an all girls school, St. Helens, and follows 20 girls as they grow together from just five years old, to eventually 18, a process which is neatly signposted by dialogue and the fluidly adapting personas of the cast.

Girls Like That saw the Nuffield Theatre’s studio space transformed, to give us a three-sided view to the performance space, with a digitalised background that changed throughout. Marching on, clad in school uniform and backpacks, the all-female cast lined the edge of the stage facing the audience. Its moving opening came in the form of all of the slut-slurs under the sun: from “slag” to “harlot” to “tart.” It gave a chilling recognition to the weight of the language used against women and girls daily, particularly throughout their school lives. The spoken word then dissolved into an unexpected dance number, with Beyoncé’s ‘Run The World (Girls)’ setting an ironic tone of companionship to precede its events.

Scarlett is signified as an outsider from the off, at five years old it’s as if her fate has already been decided. So when a naked photo of her gets shared around, the St. Helens girls don’t jump to her aid. Quite the opposite. They become like hens (a metaphor used slickly throughout), enacting the pecking order and turning against the weakest element for fear that they will be tarnished with the same brush. The photo is scrutinised in detail by the girls, bringing to light the overwhelming theme of body image among women. This is further drilled in by the presence of magazines, as the girls scrutinise (but also praise) celebrity bodies in the same way that they do Scarlett’s, whilst at the same time scrutinising themselves for not adhering to a certain ideal. Its very real and poignant, and something as a female audience member it was impossible not to identify with. We’ve all done it.

The issue of double standards comes out to play when a naked picture of one of the lads is leaked, potentially by Scarlett. But does Russell get called a slag, a slut, or a whore? Of course not. Russell is a legend, and a lad, and is high-fived for his great bod as the girls swoon over him. It was depicted very true to life, perhaps due to director Max Lindsay’s choice to:

“hand over a lot of moments to the cast to create the world of the play from their own experiences as young women”

It makes the play all the more resonant, at the same time as drawing out the unsettling reality of the way girls and women treat each other.

An interesting thread throughout Girls Like That, were the flashbacks to the 1920s, 40s, 60s and 80s. Although the first flashback was a little jarring and confusing, soon it became clear that they were signposting women who had stepped outside of their roles in society and fought for what they wanted to do. The temporal hoppings of the play made the scale of it even larger, and cleverly referenced what women have fought for throughout history- which makes the lack of companionship among the St. Helens girls more unsettling.

Girls Like That was surprisingly physical too, with extremely comic moments, dance numbers to carefully selected pop songs, and the cast working seamlessly between the different temporal spaces of the play. It was as funny as it was real and unsettling at times, with the absence of an interval allowing utter immersion into the play’s world.

Girls Like That is an important play, particularly for young people. It doesn’t shy away from the themes of body image, double standards, and friendship and it leaves nothing unturned. It’s a very real play, and hammered home many important messages.

Watch the trailer for Girls Like That at WY Playhouse, below.

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Third year English student, Records Editor, list maker and lover of Kinder Buenos.

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