Girls Like That represents itself as a play exploring gender inequality in the “digital minefield” of modern schools. Personally, I think that’s doing it a disservice – there’s not a woman who went to school in the last fifty years who won’t recognise at least some of the attitudes and feelings in Girls Like That. In fact, it’s hard for me to believe that playwright Evan Placey has never been a teenage girl himself.
The aptly-named Scarlett is at the bottom of the school “pecking order”, and when a naked photo of her is passed around the social media feeds of her school friends, she is ostracised completely. But this isn’t Scarlett’s story, necessarily – this is the story of the tight-knit group of twenty girls who’ve known each other all their lives, and who are responsible for freezing her out. They pass their story around almost a line at a time from one cast member to the next. On paper, it’s a recipe for confusion. In practice it works like a dream, rarely letting up the pace or the tension, really capturing the way that a collective decision about a classmate feels from the inside. It’s hard to single out specific actors for praise, partly because Girls Like That has such a shared narrative; and partly because, as far as I could tell, there wasn’t a single weak link. In a cast of twenty – and at the risk of being eye-wateringly patronising, such a young cast – that’s impressive.
Interspersed with this are incidents from the lives of Assertive, Boundary-Pushing Women Past, in the 1920s, 40s, 60s, and 90s, leading to the conclusion that the art of solidarity with other girls is less practised than it has been. And, if anything, that’s the weakest part – for a play that name drops The Crucible to suggest that girls today have each other’s backs less than ever before is an interesting conclusion, and not necessarily one I suspect women at school ten, twenty, forty years ago would agree with. The means may be distinctly modern – Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook – but at the core of Girls Like That is a story of young women policing each other viciously, for reasons they understand but can’t quite articulate, and that story is timeless.
Photos by James Taylor Wilson.