Taking teenagers seriously is a thought that might send shivers up many a boomer’s spine but I’d argue it’s not only a good idea, it’s necessary.
Teenagers aren’t kids anymore. Not in their own timelines, and not in comparison with teenagers of yesteryear. Adolescence is faster, sexier and more dangerous than ever. Evan Placey’s Girls Like That tackles this head on with the story of a girl whose naked picture is circulated through her school, and the social exile that she faces as a result. Steven Mitchell Wright’s reimagining of this work with the year ten class from the Queensland Academy for Creative Industries goes deeper than even the original script: it’s a heady mix of intense physicality, visually arresting staging and a goodly dose of self reflexive humor.
The key theme in this story is how we respond to adolescent sexual experimentation with respect and grace. How can we continue to call ourselves progressive women if we’re complicit in a brand new matriarchal dynasty: the one where a woman’s most vicious enemies are her peers? Teenage sexuality, on the whole, is at best gently chided into silence and at worst demonized. Teenage girls in particular are portrayed as Literal Hitler if they dare be aware of their own bodies, pleasure and desires. This show is not that. It allows the performers to explain and exude their sexual understanding without sexualizing them as objects for consumption and without trivializing their experience.
Girls Like That articulates girlhood in a series of touches, glances and shared moments of silence. This cast manages to pinpoint exactly what the grey area between being a child and an adult is: uncertainty. Catty exchanges with ‘friends’, awkward interactions with boys (who, let’s be honest, aren’t worth the time) and the stench of 2am wine cooler and ketchup is all wrapped up in a complete disillusion with your body, your relationships and your place in the world.
This show was built to hold a large cast, but QACI’s iteration is something special: there was a raw and constant energy maintained throughout the piece and the performers. A risk in working with huge groups of untested actors is a patchy distribution of talent. This cast sidestepped that with a flounce. Evenly matched skill and commitment made the large-scale dance numbers and long running time seem effortless.
As with any work that relies on significant shared text, there can be sloppiness in the delivery. Luckily, the setting and characters we’re working with makes talking over the top of each other entirely believable. What I would have liked to see is a little more vocal fortitude in some of the female chorus; with such a huge work there isn’t leeway to be unassuming or quiet.
What this show does incredibly well is its scale. The flashing lights, blaring music and energetic choreography would not be out of place at a rock concert. Instead of dwarfing the story and the performers, this is entirely fitting with what being a teenager feels like; intense, sweaty and deserving of attention.
This piece comes at the right time: we are staring down the barrel of a conservative resurgence that would make suffragettes turn in their graves. For me, one of the most resonant ideas explored in this work is that when we allow and even condone the systematic deconstruction of young women’s bodily autonomy and sexual freedom, we do an immeasurable disservice to the woman warriors who marked our path with their blood. The idea of the shared legacy that we create when we make tiny decisions every day was very well explored and I found the deconstruction of women’s lateral violence against each other engaging.
The piece ended on a hopeful note, with the idea that perhaps we can fix this for the future generation (or they will fix it themselves). This left me wanting a kind of redemption for the girls- some indication that once a ‘girl like that’ maybe not always a girl like that. Perhaps, with a better understanding of the kind of girls we would like to be (the sluts, the heathens, the lovers, the thinkers), there is enough time to reign in our culture of shame where we excuse actions in men that we vilify in women.
QACI’s version of Girls Like That does something we don’t usually allow in Australian theatre: teenagers play themselves in all their horny, bitchy and gyrating glory and they did it well. This show uses 15 year olds but it is Good not just Good For Their Age and that is a massive achievement. Girls Like That plays until November 12th and tickets can be purchased here.