It’s a road trip for Ellen Robertson and Charly Clive as they take to North America after school in the pursuit of John Hancock. He seems like as good a subject as any for their award-winning documentary film, footage that they show throughout Britney in: John.
At ten years old, GG (Naomi Sheldon) is of the impression that in order to be liked, she has to be a Good Girl. She’s at the county swimming championships and her coach is telling her to keep going, like a good girl. It’s such an awkward comment to make given today’s climate – the sinister connotations are hard to miss, despite it simply being a platitude of encouragement. But such an innocuous phrase seems to set up the remainder of GG’s emotional life, sticking in her mind at a pivotal developmental point for any child. Sheldon’s script tackles the damage caused simply by being anxious to fit in, to conform, to be a Good Girl.
For much of the story, GG seems like any other young woman – through her pre-teen to teenage years into young adulthood, she has a group of friends that discuss boys and their changing bodies. But GG seems to feel too much, describing it as a ball of energy inside her that threatens to burst out. It’s an apt description of something that children are never taught to understand – the feelings of anxiety that come with peer pressure and raging hormones. At first, they call it a Swayze, a pleasant warmth down below that seems foreign and strange. Then it’s talk of vaginas and orgasms – ultimately, it’s how to fit in and be the same as everybody else. But, how can we really know what is going on in each other’s bodies?
Sheldon is engaging, funny and effective at conveying the plethora of teenage personalities inherent within the girls’ coven. She writes honestly and truthfully about the difficulties of childhood years without sugar-coating the issues that children can face. They feel more impactful because they are still affecting so much about modern day culture. As GG’s ball of painful energy kicks into overdrive, she begins to break down more without ever truly understanding why – we don’t speak about this enough with the next generation.
There is a sudden switch in the story, a point at which Sheldon armours herself up and encases her overflowing emotions in a protective cage. It’s a switch that could be emphasised more in the production because the implications are somewhat dissociative in nature. Suddenly two personalities inhabit GG and it’s the turn of the cold, controlling bitch to come forth. She sleeps around to feel something and exhibits highly sociopathic tendencies. If people call her a whore, who cares? Suddenly the cat calling no longer affects this impenetrable exterior. Sheldon is less effective in her portrayal on this side to the character – she can’t seem to shut off her personality to the same extent.
Good Girl is a show where women are expected to have neat emotions and tiny, hairless vaginas. GG descends into the darker side of sexuality in order to try and come to terms with how she feels – sex parties, transactional encounters and the subsequent estrangement of her friends. Sheldon’s tale looks at the fallout from a girl who, in trying to be more ‘normal’, shuts down to an emotional shell and ultimately a less human version of herself. The execution needs more light and shade, but ultimately Good Girl is a worthy educational piece to show the next generation the mistakes of those gone before.
Good Girl plays Just The Tonic @ The Mash House as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 until 27 August 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.
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Jemima Foxtrot loops lines of verse, sounds and noises around and around, until they build up to an indistinguishable din. It’s the clamour in our subconscious mind, the multiple threads of stories that never get the chance to finish before new ideas, thoughts or streams of narrative invade and take over.
Guest Review by Isabelle Fernandez.
Based on actual events, and set in University College Hospital in London in 1949, Tony Cox’s Mrs Orwell is a depiction of what was to become George Orwell’s final bout of illness. It covers a period of his life where, despite enforced confinement, he managed to have a significant influence on many, including the complicated overlapping personal and professional relationships that are portrayed so effectively. The central relationship between Orwell (Peter Hamilton Dyer) & friend Sonia Brownell (Cressida Bonas) is enrichened by their interactions with others; the marriage between these characters, orchestrated and influenced by Fred Warburg (Robert Stocks), only led to further interweave the lives of all of the characters.
Despite the bleak setting and the degenerating illness afflicting Orwell, the powerful and captivating performances mean that Mrs Orwell is thought-provoking and entertaining, often upbeat and has moments of true comedy. The cantankerous Orwell’s (Hamilton Dyer) nuanced performance allows an insight into the many complicated interdependent relationships in the authors life. His enthralling portrayal means that while his interactions with other characters, particularly Bonas, have some impact on his demeanour, his multifaceted personality pervades. This allows for a nuanced understanding of the man behind the books, how he was able to impact on so many, and how so much potential remained before he succumbed to illness.
There are layers of complexity across the different types of dependency within each relationship, from the straightforward interactions between Nurse (Rosie Ede) and Orwell (Hamilton Dyer) that have some affection and mutual benefit, to the more complicated intricacies of the relationship between Warburg (Stocks) and Orwell (Hamilton Dyer) in which Stocks demonstrates a tremendous passion for Hamilton Dyer to succeed in areas where he sought to benefit. A powerful scene that takes place after the authors death shows the determination by Stocks to get what he feels is owed to him, which surpasses his grief in the passing of a close friend.
The relationship between Brownell (Bonas) and Orwell (Hamilton Dyer) is the most multifaceted of all, with a starkly unromantic proposal and acceptance framed by the rich understanding of some of the characters motivations and fears, developed through the poignant depiction of pivotal experiences in their respective lives. It is at odds with this that despite the charisma so evidently in abundance in the author, Bonas appears unaffected by Hamilton Dyer on a personal level beyond the existing relationship prior to marriage. This is somewhat disappointing as the charm and draw of Hamilton Dyer is so clearly impactful on the other relationships portrayed.
The use of space adds an extra dimension to the production, with many pivotal scenes taking place in the corridor outside of the hospital room and thus set against the backdrop of another character inside, oblivious to the insight that the audience is gathering. This is an effective demonstration of the juxtaposition between the freedom that some characters experience against the confines of others.
Of note also in Mrs Orwell is the effective use of transitions between scenes, masterfully utilised to convey the passing of time and support the nuanced understanding of each character through careful attention to mannerisms and presence.
Director: Jimmy Walters
Writer: Tony Cox
Designer: Rebecca Brower; Simon Gethin Thomas (lighting); Piers Sherwood Roberts (sound)
Composer: Jeremy Warmsley
Cast: Cressida Bonas; Edmund Digby Jones; Rosie Ede; Peter Hamilton Dyer; Robert Stocks
Image courtesy of Samuel Taylor
Mrs Orwell plays the Old Red Lion Theatre until 26 August 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.
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