‘Girls Like That’ by the Feather Theatre Company was a bold and honourable attempt at highlighting some of the inequalities between the genders as well as what it is like growing up in the 21st century. Written by Evan Placey in 2013, it tells the story of ten girls who have known each other since primary school, reacting to a nude picture of one of the girls which is circling the internet.
Long before the play began, the main cast of the ten girls were in character, sat in a row at the front facing the audience. They were all looking at their phones, which was not only a foreshadowing for the focus of the play, but also a strange reflection of the audience who were too scrolling on their phones, waiting for the action to begin. The venue, the Ustinov Room in Van Mildert, was small without a proper stage, but it seemed to work well, as the audience wasn’t large and it created a feeling of complicity between the audience and what was happening on stage.
Straight away the sight of the uniforms and the atmosphere of the all-girls environment brought back traumatic memories for me from my own single-sex school experience. While some of the girls at my school were undeniably mean, they were far from being as universally horrible as the nine girls in the show. Their reaction to the nude picture, and their bullying of the tenth girl Scarlett, was obviously amped up for dramatic effect and to get the point across, but it did become a little waring at times and meant there was little room for any real character complexity or development. This, however, is the original play’s fault rather than the production’s, and Adela Hernandez Derbyshire managed to shine in her role as Scarlett despite this. She was on stage surprisingly little, despite being the focus of the plot, and for most of the play she was silent while being discussed at great length by the other characters. This made it particularly effective when she appeared at the end, after the other girls thought she had committed suicide, and delivered a speech, finally expressing all her emotions and hurt. Adela delivers this scene of intense emotion very convincingly and managed to keep it up through the sizable monologue.
One of the highlights of the show is the dance breaks in between scenes, with music from empowering female musicians such as Beyoncé. The dancing was good, and the ‘female empowerment’ songs contrasted well with the misogynistic terms the girls were constantly throwing at one another. Monologue scenes from women at different periods in time also broke up the school scenes and successfully came together at the end to form Scarlett’s female line of descendants. I liked the Legally Blonde-esque scene from the eighties depicting sexual harassment in a law firm, delivered by Ella Seigne, and overall these scenes were some of the best, and most confident, in the play. Some of the schoolgirls were a little shaky and nervous in their delivery, so often the dialogue in these sections was less snappy than they needed to be.
The major fault with the production for me was the play selection. The discussion of repression of female sexuality and the double standard which exists between boys and girls, was noble but very heavy handed in its delivery. Not that I don’t agree with it, just that the issue is really the only real substance to the play, and things like characterisation and plot most certainly are secondary to it. It reminded me strongly of those ‘cautionary tale’ videos they used to make us watch in high school, warning us of the dangers of talking to strangers online or taking nude photos. In its defence, it rightly shifts the emphasis onto the fault of the bullies rather than the victims, but the ‘narrating’ style (‘we put our arms around each other’ etc) made it seem preachy and slow.
Feather’s next production will be the musical ‘Grease’, which will provide a stark change of pace from ‘Girls like That’, and I look forward to seeing how they take on a completely different genre!
By Isabel Carmichael-Davis