Sunday 22 September 2019

Just Us Girls - Theatre Review

What: Just Us Girls
When: 21 - 29 September 2019
Where: Music Room, Trades Hall
Created and performed by: Ellen Grimshaw and Alice Stewart
Directed by: Milly Cooper and Sarah Vickery
Lighting and sound by: Justin Gardam
Alice Stewart and Ellen Grimshaw
The Music Room at Trades Hall is being occupied by strong female performance makers this week with the show Just Us Girls. This is basically a VCA Masters programs takeover as directors and writers from the writing and directing program dominate the stage with overwhelming messages of female oppression and a plea for empowerment.

The publicity blurb speaks to Just Us Girls being an absurdist work but that is not really correct. It is more accurately a post truth surrealist journey using performance body art (in the footsteps of the work of Maria Abramovic). Coupled with Grimshaw's stream of consciousness text, the show barely takes a moment to breath as it powers through a patriarchy which has no idea what it is to be a woman.

An Alien (Grimshaw) arrives on this planet and meets Dick Shirt (Stewart) and spends the next hour trying to find out what a girl [please insert the word woman wherever you feel you need to feel like an adult] is. Dick Shirt has absolutely no idea, citing examples which include potatoes and a couch amongst other objects, but then asserting quite vehemently there is only one type of girl.

There are moments of real genius in the writing including the 'sorry' aria and a trip to a restaurant where the Alien is invited to choose rape cake from the menu. Amongst all of the physicality and dance these are the moments when the show has true heart, as Grimshaw emerges from her charicature to tell us her experiences of rape are in the multiples and not just the one extraordinary event the media and culture like to tell us will only ever happen to a woman.

In a world where noodles are microwaves it is these explosive moments of truth which keep us glued to what is happening. My one reservation is that in telling us Feminism is really just equality (an oversimplification, but point taken), and where the idea of women being diverse and right in front of men's noses, I do worry about the monochromatic depiction of the 'man' in the show. In speaking against misogyny has the team crossed the line themselves into the abyss of misandry?

The physicality of Just Us Girls is intensely energising, but just as the performers get exhausted by the end, so too are the audience a bit worn out. Luckily this Fringe sized chunk of theatre is just the right size to sustain the work the audience need to do to keep up.

I would have liked more use of the AV. If you are going to use technology you really should use it consistently to ensure it really feels like a part of the show. I feel this would really amp up the show by giving the audience a few more keyholes into some of the more obscure shifts, especially in the second half.

As theatre, Just Us Girls is energetic and full of a truly righteous fury and yearning. It just needs to be careful not to be guilty of the same crime it is accusing the patriarchy of and thus falling into their stereotype.

4 Stars

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