Diary of a Teenage Girl (Southwark Playhouse)

Posted: March 7, 2017 in Theatre

diaryThis review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com


Flower power and hippies may have deserted San Francisco by 1976, but Marielle Heller’s play, adapted from Phoebe Gloeckner’s 2002 graphic novel, tells us that they left behind traditions of free love. Diary of a Teenage Girl is based around the daily tape-recorded ramblings of 15-year-old Minnie as she trips tentatively into the world of adults. dabbling in promiscuity and hallucinatory drugs.

Rona Morison’s Minnie is lively, naive, inquisitive and mischievous. She aspires to being older than her years, living with a divorced mother, Charlotte (Rebecca Trehearn), who tries desperately to be younger than hers. Charlotte’s current boyfriend, Monroe (Jamie Wilkes) is a weak-willed waster and her straight-laced distant step dad, Pascal (Mark Carrol) feigns concern while sleeping with her slutty best friend, Kimmie (Saskia Strallen). And so, Minnie seduces Monroe and things start to get hot.

As coming of age tales go, the play is not particularly remarkable. It is mildly amusing rather than hilarious and it relies very heavily on the likability that Morison gives to Minnie to carry it through some soggy patches. Most telling is the central character’s growing feeling of empowerment. “I’m better than you” she tells Monroe with conviction and her determination to exploit new opportunities opening up for women gives the play meaning and raises it above the level of broad comedy.

Heller sprinkles the “f” word liberally over her dialogue in a work that, by modern standards, tries too hard to be bold. This may be explained by reminders everywhere in this production, directed with pace by Alexander Parker and Amy Ewbank, that we are back in the less enlightened era of flared trousers, sideburns and glam rock. Andrew Riley’s set and costume designs are sharply evocative. An attic bedroom with patterned wallpaper and a huge skylight is Minnie’s base and projected graphics link to the play’s origins, as does Minnie’s likely future profession, a cartoonist. To top everything, David Bowie, T Rex and Neil Sedaka provide the soundtrack.

All this may have considerable nostalgic appeal for fifty somethings, but it will speak less loudly to a modern generation used to mobile phones, Facebook and internet dating. Therein lies the problem that this production fails to overcome. Although the play does not belong to the era in which it is set and some of its themes are timeless, modern relevance becomes obscured by period detail and candid treatment of sexual activities, which may have been daring in the 1970s, now seems merely quaint.

Morison is pure joy, heading a spirited cast, and there is evidence throughout that a great deal of loving care has been put in by all involved in the production. However, the question that lingers is whether this play, which is quite modern but feels badly dated, is really deserving of their efforts.

Performance date: 6 March 2017


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