Southwark Playhouse, London – until 25 March 2017
Nina Dunn, Andrew Riley and David Howe combine forces to create a vibrant set, lighting and video design for The Diary Of A Teenage Girl – a show where kitsch is the perfect one-word description. Marielle Heller’s story revolves entirely around Minnie (Rona Morison) and boy, does Minnie make sure it stays that way. No other character gets so much as a look in – best friend Kimmie (Saskia Strallen) has to fuck Minnie’s stepfather just to get her attention. Well, Kimmie has an a la mode haircut, dates a cool kid and acts like a slut – how could any of that possibly feature in Minnie’s spoken thoughts?
The tape recorder is the diary of choice here – perfect for a production, but not quite as secure as locking a diary. Of course Minnie finds this out to her dismay when young mother Charlotte (Rebecca Trehearn) discovers the dirty secrets. Unfortunately, mum’s boyfriend Monroe (Jamie Wilkes) can’t possibly keep his pervy hands off 15-year old Minnie. Sporting a ‘118 118’ moustache and overly revealing running shorts, he gets the full taste of Minnie at any chance he can get. But this is not a play about rape, oh no – Minnie is fifteen, calculating and raging with hormones, so she’s gagging for sex as much as any spotty teenage boy that can’t conceal his erection whenever a woman wears a low-cut top.
Alexander Parker and Amy Ewbank focus the action entirely around Minnie – Morison must spend at least 90% of the show on stage. Everything is designed to accentuate Minnie’s point of view – the bed that acts as a projector screen for Dunn’s scrawled comic book designs to expertly come to life; the acid tripping wallpaper that distorts when Minnie and Monroe trip hard on class A drugs; the serene dockside scene when Monroe dreams about packing in and sailing away with his fifteen year-old squeeze. The creative vision for the whole production is cohesive, comprehensive and adds piercing clarity to Minnie’s every mood, every thought, every whim. Given that this bag of teenage insecurities is particularly warped, the production value to this show is superb.
Wilkes and Trehearn are well judged, but ultimately act like props for Morison to bounce off, such is the premise for the play. As the centre of attention for the play and in her life – well, of course, the world revolves around Minnie – Rona Morison is the epitome of stroppy teenager. She navigates a myriad of confused hormonal imbalances, urges and rebellious streaks with effortless precision. Every scene commands her presence, both because she is the central narration and because every micro-reaction catches your eye. A naïve attempt at maturity swiftly descends to immature rebellion, coming full circle and regressing back to the frightened child that only wants some compassion, some affection, some parental guidance. Morison sports a smile that simultaneously conveys teenage purity and sadistic lust wrapped up in one. The realisation that she has hit rock bottom, the sheen of drugs and pending adulthood wearing off, exposes Morison to the full force of her emotions. 80 minutes of bravado are expertly stripped away in minutes to get at the core of this character’s insecurities.
Heller’s script is full of frank expression, innuendo and conversations that are awkward to witness a teenager having. But The Diary Of A Teenage Girl is meant to be exactly that – the transition between child and adult, where concepts are explored and tested on new minds, brains that don’t fully grasp the consequences of their actions. It’s matter of fact, yet embarrassing to discuss and as an audience we laugh along, sometimes nervously and sometimes in shock and outrage, because we too don’t know how to talk about these without feeling uncomfortable. Parker and Ewbank capitalise on this for full effect.