BY ALEXANDER DEFERT
FRISKY'S FIRST SHOW IS SWEET AND SIMPLE
Before we start anything, it's time for a confession. I had real trouble when reviewing this production; half of me convinced it was groundbreaking, the other (more cynical) half equally adamant that it was nothing more than an exercise in the sort of faux originality and nostalgia baiting that I've come to loathe in pop-culture. But as I watched, a curious realization emerged. That this conflict was, essentially, the entire point of the play, and one which was explored and reconciled in a way that was both entirely charming and poignantly familiar. It also gave me my new favorite word of 2017: Shinbonkin. I'm still not sure what it means, but by God it makes me happy to say!
Girl World is a bright, frenetic and immensely enjoyable production that successfully encapsulates the bittersweet movement from girlish childhood to adult femininity. Its brash, colourful style is both gorgeous and jarring, whilst its fast paced and explosive script brings complexity and real development to what is essentially a well known tale of growing up. In the wrong hands such a simple premise is liable to become blunt and crass, but in Frisky the simplicity becomes an elegant exploration of childhood whimsy and feminist subtext. Credit for this rests largely on the towering performances of Camille Dawson and Serena Ramsey as Tilly and Inga. Both are extraordinarily funny, and always sympathetic even as the characters' disintegrating friendship and differing interpretations of femininity (incarnate as the goddess 'Fatnaboona', an alarmingly adorable and expressive space-hopper) plays out and forces the audience to take sides. Ramsey's Inga benefits from being the louder of the two, and her hilariously infantile moments of exuberance made up nearly all my favorite moments in the play. That said, none of her humour would successfully land without the equally impressive performance from Dawson's Tilly, who both dryly quips and transgresses the rules of 'Girl World' with equally magnificent aplomb. Whether the moments of physical theatre, the songs or the improvisation around rare technical failures, both actors showcased the incredible talent that surely makes them ones to watch out for in future.
Praise should also be given to the production designers and artists Ranya El-Refaey, Olivia Douglass, and Pam Tait for their fantastic work on the set design, costuming and art styles (as well as Ailsa McKay's marketing). Girls World is a visual treat, and an example of how to maximise a small budget to create the astounding worlds which theatre helps bring to life. The direction from Lucy Mann is skillful in making the most of her actors and the largely exceptional script (written by Dawson her father, Paul) which she has to work with. The music too, created and performed by Franklin Dawson and Oscar Lane, was a joy to behold, even if some of the latter songs lyrics perhaps need some reworking if they are to reach the level of the opening song 'Girl World' (which was so good I wish it were available on itunes).
Time for confession number two; Girl World has quite a few niggling flaws. For a first performance of their first full length play this should hardly be unexpected, but they bear consideration. Firstly, as I just noted, some of the musical numbers seem oddly uncomofrtable with their own lyrics and struggle to clear the high bar positioned by the opening song. Secondly, this sense of stretching to fill a gap is palpable in areas of the otherwise excellent script; the middle sections in particular appearing more rushed and less nuanced than the performances carrying it deserve. An explanation can be found in the decision to deliberately leave portions of the script empty for development through improv and workshopping. Sadly not all the ideas this produced were equal to the play as a whole. But the bigger criticism lies with the core inspiration for the play.
A few years ago some of the minds behind Frisky helped bring us 'Pussy', a performance centered around the despicable and toxic expectations that patriarchal society burdens women with. It was, like Girl World, brash and unapologetic in diagnosing the issues plaguing women today (in the former the actions of male-dominated culture, in the latter the trickle down issues this creates in the divisions between feminist attempts to find a female identity). Unlike Girl World, it didn't pull its punches; delivering a mightily needed slap in the face to male audience members. Girld World, whilst a more accomplished piece, suffers from a sense that the deliberately childish viewpoint has hampered interesting points. I would have loved to see how Inga reconciled the 'dick chopper' she whittles with the stirrings of her own sexuality rather than Tilly's, or how themes of male authority rather than male sexual interest encroaching on Girl World might have played out for our two characters. Girl World was born from the real life 'femme-tastic landscapes' created by Dawson in her childhood, and I got the sense that there was a lot more of it that didn't make it into the play. The loss of these may be good or bad, but the loss is apparent in the play nonetheless. A minor fault, but one which robs Girl World of the oomph that Pussy enjoyed.
Overall though, Girl World is a supreme accomplishment for a first show. Frisky should be more than proud with their creation, they should be ecstatic. As an opening salvo of their abilities, Frisky have created a truly spectacular production which announces their arrival onto the theatre scene in prodigious style. I can't wait to see where Girl World, and Frisky, go in the future!