Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

A catalogue of cruelty

Girls Like That

Stage2 Youth Theatre

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham


EVER been bullied at school? Sneered at? Ostracised? Cruelly mocked? Falsely accused? Made to feel like a pariah?

Stage2’s Girls Like That is a sensational staging of a brilliant play: in fact, it’s one of the cleverest youth productions I have seen in years.

Why? Liz Light’s young cast have talent coming out of their ears. Their speaking is superb: full of guts and panache, and real dramatic flair. Often they form a kind of Greek chorus, one voice taking over from another with perfect timing, linked to what precedes by a kind of artful enjambment. And their choric speaking, all delivering at once, lands a terrific puncgirls like thish. Enunciation, projection are almost professional. This would be a great show even if we only heard them.

But it looks fabulous. Although it has a multicolour impact, it seems to be colour-coded, with pinks, turquoises and greens predominating, but apricot and fuchsia and electric blue in strong support. The younger ones – masquerading wonderfully as five year olds who grow to eights and then 11s – have a more pastel look. In fact it’s they who as tinies begin the bullying. Innocent they may look, but they have nasty sharp teeth. They led off the show; and utterly inspired they were, as speakers, as movers.

The older group – mid teens, roughly 14 to 16 year olds; one might call them an ensemble – take pleasure even more in wielding the knife. They hold our attention from start to finish, with no let up or failing. The production never droops for a moment. Mass entrances are perfected, exits are slick. They never stop acting for a second, and they are without exception dazzling, talented performers.

Brandishing Iphones, snapping selfies, taunting, never letting go, they sneer eagerly and carp viciously when they spot their victim, Scarlett, has a mole above her breast, someone having photographed her nude and circulated (“sexting”) the result, then tries every technical means of making her life a misery. Lugging around colour-matched stools (maybe just a little too often), they perform a kind of ritual dance, beautifully blocked and superbly enacted. So beguiling and bewitching are these girls’ scenes, it’s almost trance-like. Their moves are electrifying and gripping, their speech mesmerising. Could one see anywhere a better example of girls acting horrible girls – brilliantly?

While both age groups plot and connive, trying to improve on their heartlessness, the girl Scarlett Smith, played by two performers, the charismatic Emily Cremins (as the younger Scarlett, just turning teen) and the passionate Megan Fisher (as the elder mid-teen) battles to hold her own in an unfeeling world, and ever so gradually affects or changes their attitudes, abetted by their own consciences and emerging sensitivity. A highlight was Fisher’s urgent and humanising soliloquy near the end, interspersed with really telling additions from Cremins. This was a story with heart, but here was the heart of the story. 

If one of the girls likened them in their gaggle to chickens, ‘Maybe chickens are horrible murderers . . . they’ll keep pecking (the chosen victim) till they draw blood’ (someone later posits: ‘You are indigestible, girls; you are food-poisoning’), the boys - there are 14 of them too, spanning the ages – have their own little nasty streak, full of smirks and predictably dubbing one of their most vulnerable ‘gay’ for scant reasogrils like that 2n. Every now and then Liz Light’s production allowed for extraordinary, unexpected silences, in which not a muscle moved; these were prolonged and highly effective. Thanks to all the wonderful invention of the skedaddling, criss-crossing moves (one block looked like a gathering of waterlilies), one felt she was utterly in harmony with Evan Placey’s superb, pithy new drama (Winner of Best Play for Young Audiences - Writers' Guild of Great Britain Awards 2015). This was direction that could not be faulted. I didn’t spot one move that seemed misplaced, misunderstood or forgotten. This performance looked utterly error-free.

If Placey’s play, co-commissioned by Birmingham Repertory Theatre, the Theatre Royal, Plymouth and West Yorkshire Playhouse, and first seen in 2013, is mainly for chorus – Stage2’s girl speakers clever, witty, acrimonious, venomous, but essentially trying to find themselves; the boys less sophisticated, snide, naughty and and naïve camp followers – four more characters are inserted who make a big difference to the work’s pace and phasing. These are the Narrators (Haroon Rashid, Karam Johal) who steer the story or fade in over the chorus to give a new and wiser slant on events: both were strong and effective speakers, and decked out in black added a marked, distinctive presence too.

The two others are described as ‘Flashbacks’, played by Stage2 veterans Chloe Jones and Alex Butler. They intersperse reminiscences of the way women have been treated over almost 100 years – the 1920s, ’40s, ’60s and ’80s. They are able to provide an objective view, their language is more elevated and their formed opinions more incisive. They bring pause for thought amid the teenage witterings and cruel blather. She was quite superb; he added support. Their 1940s exchange between airman and ATA (Air traffic Auxiliary – brave, capable women flying planes from one location to the other in the UK) was just one of the many treats of the unrelentingly entertaining script. 

So – a triumph for Stage2, for its young members and its management. This thoughtful play was matched at every turn by a first-class, thoughtful reading and deft team performance. The young teen cast simply romped home with a hit. Top marks all round. To 18-07-15

Roderic Dunnett


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