Friday, 14 September 2018

Sleepover Gurlz - Theatre Review

What: Sleepover Gurlz
When: 15 - 23 September 2018
Where: Private residence, North Fitzroy
Created and performed by: Vidya Rajan and Emma Smith
Sound by: Xanthea O'Connor
Vidya Rajan and Emma Smith
Every girl loves a pyjama party and, let's be honest, every woman loves them too - we have just given in to the idea that grown women don't do that kind of thing. In this sentence lies the kernel of the ideas behind Sleepover Gurlz, which is a semi-interactive/immersive theatre event in this year's Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Created as a seething indictment on the strictures and absurdities placed on women to conform to societal expectations, Rajan and her alter ego Smith take us on a sleepover journey from the magic and excitement of being an 8 year old, to the mania and elasticity required to be a career woman in 2018. As a child we are all so desperate to grow up and when we grow up we just become desperate to survive.

Sleepover Gurlz has their pre-performance framing perfect as the waiting audience sit together creating paper crowns with glitter pens and laughing together. We then move into the bedroom for the sleepover. It is quite amazing how 10 people can fit in this small townhouse bedroom quite comfortably it turns out. We are all given nightgowns (in large sizes thankfully) and we watch as Rajan lies comatose across her messy bed as an endless array of phone messages reels off their demands on her time, attention and money.

With the onset of a haunting sound design by O'Connor we enter the psyche of Rajan as she dreams about her dreams which become nightmares, which become her current nightmare. Sleepover Gurlz is layer upon layer of messages from inside and outside about how to live in the world as a girl/woman and they press on Rajan relentlessly.

Smith slips between being that little voice in Rajan's head giving her advice, egging her on - 'do it!' -and leading her astray. We often talk about people as not trusting themselves and in Sleepover Gurlz the message is how can we trust ourselves when we are not allowed to be ourselves?

In between popcorn scattered all over the bed, fairy lights and Disney princesses Rajan learns her role in life is to have babies and have an A-list high power career. The problem is her vagina smells, she has hair on her body and - well - she's a woman and you can't give good jobs to women. Women are only good for typing, after all.

Smith and Rajan have created a powerful experience and Smith is something of an Energiser bunny with a mania that never ends. She is the epitome of a mind always racing to figure out how to play the game of life.

Sleepover Gurlz is a lot of fun and there are some fantastic moments with the audience and lots of laughter. We all get names (not unlike Blood Is Thicker Than Hummus) and we all become part of their world as we munch on the snacks we bring.

My one concern is the show is so manic from the very beginning and there is a lot going on so it does become a bit exhausting. Luckily this is Fringe and nothing is longer than an hour because, to be honest, I was tired at the end. A little bit more dramaturgy on the story arc would allow the audience to develop a sense of growing anxiety and frustration as Rajan goes on to do ridiculous things to her body and mind to succeed in this world as a woman.

Of course the scariest part of this story is that it is all true and if you are a woman you have probably done all of this yourself. There is something weirdly disconcerting about laughing about how badly you have treated yourself even when you know what is being asked is beyond ridiculous and completely unachievable.

I also had a  bit of trouble keeping track of the role Smith was playing as she seemed to slip between best friend and alter ego. That might have been my own misconceptions but I think more could be done to clarify that.

Sleepover Gurlz doesn't really say anything new, but it is good to keep reflecting back what the experience of being female in the world is for us - especially for those who say we have equality now. It is a great Fringe experience and goes well as an amuse bouche for a night of Fringe going at other venues (a lot like when you meet up at a friend's place to get ready for a night of clubbing). Don't forget to bring snacks!!!

2.5 Stars

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