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A Tasty Plan present

Bittergirl

 

Written by Mary Francis Moore, Annabel Griffiths and Alison Lawrence

 

Directed by Sherrill Gow

 

King’s Head Theatre

 

7 July – 13 August and 15 September – 2 October 2010

 

 

 

 


 

 

A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Bittergirl’s not my kind of show – in content. It’s about three thirty-something Canadian women who’ve all had different relationships with the same conclusion: an acrimonious break-up. This show is their collective aftermath, with all the insecurities, desperation and female camaraderie that goes along with it. The play’s mainstream, populist and downright girly: a mash-up of every girl-power cultural event from Ally McBeal and The Spice Girls to any recent Matthew McConaughey film and Sex and the City 2. Now listen, I say this not to criticise, but to put things in perspective: as an idealistic, existential, artistically snobbish male philosophy graduate there was little chance of me ever enjoying the content of this piece. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it.

In fact, there’s plenty to commend. The cast is an ensemble of three dejected women namelessly named A, B and C and one insensitive everyman, D, and they flow seamlessly. From the choral beginnings the women chirp their language cheerfully, emboldening their independence from their collective ex by each speaking every third word of each sentence. There is a sense of power between the women and positivity in their unified movement which draws the audience to them. As the dramas unfold, the women become isolated, each revealing their weakness as they face one-on-one encounters with their ex as their comrades sit powerless on stage right and left. There are heartfelt monologues and determined resolves, but each time one of the women is left alone on stage, she seems lost. The purpose of this technique came to light in the later ensemble scenes: once the women were reunited, the electricity on stage grew. The ‘Honour’ scene is a particular highlight: Lisa Jedan’s ‘A’ is ecstatic as she downs tequila and rants at her ex’s new mistress; Clara Perez’s ‘B’ is a composed beacon of sobriety and Aoife Nally’s ‘C’ is truly magnetic as she brandishes a set of keys towards the everyman’s precious car.

Sherrill Gow’s direction of this ensemble deserves merit, not least because the tired writing wasn’t much to bite on, however bitter it was meant to be. I was convinced by the acting, and engaged by the direction, but despite my lack of suitability as a target audience, I felt that the writing could have been sharper, and the texture of the piece slightly less plastic. That’s not to say Anett Black’s set didn’t have its’ perks. The whole stage was littered with battered vintage suitcases, a constant reminder of the ‘baggage’ we bring to relationships, and the cast used these to create new worlds to their advantage. The perpetual siege of the ensemble created by the cases enhanced the claustrophobia that often afflicts the end of a relationship and the clearance of the bags into one neat pile at the finale created a much needed catharsis.

I was also particularly stuck by the costumes of the cast. Although simple and unostentatious, the red stylish dresses worn by the women gave a slight magical feel to the performance, and subtly but strongly enhanced the entire aesthetic of the piece. However, I feel for the next costume designer who has to dress a middle of the road, middle-class 30-something everyman in the uniform of smart casual loafers, dark jeans, open collar shirt and light beige jacket – it’s just inescapably dull.

The lighting of the production deserves a mention as it noticeably commanded the mood of the audience. This happened via moves from soft lit side lights in the scene changes and intimate moments to full flat-white flood light when the big power plays occurred. The music relentlessly swapped between an instrumental version of Incubus’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and another soft rock non-entity. These songs suited the feel of the piece well, but their monotonous loop in the scene changes became rather irksome and dry.

In my heart of hearts, I’m proud that the writers have brought the TV-dominated genre of consumer-girl heartbreak to the humble world of theatre. It shows courage, vision and a will to make the stage accessible and un-elitist. In a nutshell, if you’re tired of women whining about how rubbish men are, spare yourself; if you’re up for a light girly fling with fringe theatre, go give it a pop.

 

 

 

7 July – 13 August
Returns 15 September - 2 October, 2010
10PM - 11PM

King’s Head Theatre,
115 Upper Street,
London,
N1 1QN

Tickets:  £13 General and £11 Concessions

Box Office:                0844 209 0326

www.kingsheadtheatre.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

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