BWW Review: GIRLS, Soho Theatre, 1 October 2016

BWW Review: GIRLS, Soho Theatre, 1 October 2016

BWW Review: GIRLS, Soho Theatre, 1 October 2016Theresa Ikoko's brilliant debut play, Girls, is a visceral portrayal of life for three young girls, kidnapped and held captive by Islamic extremists somewhere in West Africa.

As the danger to their lives becomes more apparent, the dynamic between the trio shifts. The friendship is tested by the circumstances they find themselves in and each must do what they can to survive.

The play features beautifully judged performances from the three actresses. As the story develops, three very distinct personalities emerge.

Haleema, played by Anita-Joy Uwajeh is acerbic, sarcastic and the grown up of the group. Uwajeh brings huge amounts of expression to the role, becoming increasingly desperate to escape. Yvette Boakye is Ruhab, who believes that co-operation is the key to survival. She brings great humour and resilience to a role that could have been portrayed as a downtrodden victim.

Abiola Ogunbiyi's Tisana is the naïve youngster. Her increasing fear and shattered innocence in the face of her situation is truly heartbreaking to watch.

Ikoko's writing, along with Elayce Ismail's deft direction and standout performances from all three actresses demonstrate the main strength of the play, which is realism of the friendship between the girls. They are universal; they laugh about sex, love and popular culture, and tease one other.

There is no direct reference to Boko Haram, but the play includes the strong implication that campaigns such as the #bringbackourgirls campaign after the Chibok girls were kidnapped are a failure. Ikoko captures very well that today we are so constantly bombarded with tragedy, we become immune to it. A story appears, we collectively wring our hands and then move on, shaking our heads at the next atrocity. This play brings one such story back to sharp focus and reminds us of the failures of governments and political movements to make any real difference to the plight of many women around the world.

The light-hearted moments are a welcome lift to the dark despair of the other scenes. The scene where Ruhab and Haleema act out their favourite TV programmes for Tisana is both funny and genuine, as it reinforces the premise that these girls could be from anywhere.

The play is a worthy Verity Bargate Award finalist and winner of the Alfred Fagon and George Devine Awards. However, the one weak part is the final scenes. The brutality is necessary to reinforce the reality of such situations, but it feels a little rushed and unexplained.

Andy Purves's lighting and Richard Hammarton's sound design are crucial to creating the claustrophobic and frightening atmosphere of the forest and then the camp the girls find themselves in. Some scenes are seconds long, with starkly atmospheric lighting and echoing sounds that are boomingly loud and sometimes haunting. It is a very effective mixture.

With 27 scenes played out in 90 minutes, this is an intense but very important piece of theatre.

Girls is at the Soho Theatre until 29 October

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From This Author Aliya Al-Hassan

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