The Real Girl at the Tristan Bates is just one of the many shows on offer at this year’s Camden Fringe Festival. Like the Edinburgh festival, this array of quirky off-West End hour-long performances is a breeding ground for new ideas, scratch performances, and bizarre concepts. Also like Edinburgh, it is potluck what each viewer gets. With The Real Girl, the experience each audience member undergoes is heavily reliant on whether they are chosen (sometimes forcibly so) to participate in Cherise Stefanie’s whirlwind of memories, perhaps playing one of her school friends, someone she has met on a blind date – or a fellow dancer in a club.
This might fill some with horror; indeed, as an audience member I generally dread this kind of ‘immersive’ theatre. Still, others appear to embrace a bit of ‘just-get-stuck-in-guys’, and bully for them. Stefanie doesn’t really care which camp you fall into; everyone still has to get up on their feet and get involved, whether that’s learning a dance routine, blowing bubbles, or reading old text messages she once received. In Stefanie’s efforts to describe her journey from The Innocent Girl (via stages such as The Sexy Girl and The Have-It-All Girl) to The Real Girl (inexplicably in a hospital bed replete with Super Hero costume), I felt as though I was at some giant kid’s party, whilst the birthday girl in question pranced around with puppets, inexplicably having sex with lollipops, and flitting between realities.
Whilst bizarre, there was ample support from the audience, alongside nods of recognition as Stefanie rattled through, say, the many stages of healing during a break-up that she had experienced (although it later becomes clear she really isn’t over him yet), and knowing smiles at the major political and cultural events that took place during certain years. Yet this doesn’t take away from the bemused question marks hanging over each spectator’s head. All in all, The Real Girl feels like an attempt to dramatize, Adrian Mole-style, certain key events in Stefanie’s 30-something years; yet the execution is chaotic, bizarre, self-indulgent even. Perhaps the show is therapeutic to some extent for Stefanie, although I’m not exactly sure how this benefits the viewer. Having said that, and as random and imperfect as it is, The Real Girl is personal, brave and bonkers – and despite it’s shortcomings, that is what the fringe should be all about.
Review by Amy Stow
She has one very vivid memory: of being seven years old and hiding in her bedroom cupboard because she didn’t want to look like a girl in case all the little boys made fun of her. That is one of the few things she can remember. Because she has forgotten almost everything else.
The Real Girl is about our struggle to find our identity in an image based society. A show for anyone who enjoys things that are a bit messy because life can be messy.
THE REAL GIRL – CAMDEN FRINGE 2016
by Cherise Stefanie
Tue 16 – Sat 20 August 2016, 6pm
Tristan Bates Theatre
1A Tower St, Covent Garden