An amnesiac walks into a bar. He goes up to a beautiful blonde and says, ‘So, do I come here often?’ It’s funny, this interaction between a (male) customer and a barman and, without knowing exactly why, we are rapt with attention whenever someone begins a ‘walks into a bar’ joke. Maybe it’s the loud guffaw we anticipate, even before we hear the punch line. But what is so funny about a bar? And what makes it the perfect set-up to contemplate the absurdities of life? Without having the answer to this question, Lulu Raczka’s, A Girl in School Uniform (Walks into a Bar), challenges its audience to create order from chaos when life is so shambolic that all semblance of meaning has collapsed.
It’s a gorgeous riddle of a play that invents a narrative so fresh and so abstract as to redefine what is possible in theatre. The set is unfriendly and spare, which challenges the viewer to fill in the blanks – the interior of a clapped-out bar and what might lie beyond. Enter a school girl named Steph (Laura Woodward) who walks into a bar looking for her friend, Charlie – also a schoolgirl – who’s gone missing in a blackout. The only person in the bar is Bell, the barmaid (Bryony Davies) who is positive Charlie never entered her bar because nobody ever does, or if they did it was eons ago. And here’s where we are treated to the ingenious directorial talents of Ali Pidsley, who positions and repositions the actors in such a way as to make us understand that we have entered a dystopian world that hints at a beyond of war-torn landscapes in a place where power cuts are the norm and people are killed in blackouts. And blackouts are a crucial aspect of the play because half the action takes place in the dark, interrupted at various points with blasting white light. But are we dealing with black-outs that result from power cuts? Or mental black-outs that bury some terrifying trauma that, if remembered, would destroy our very life.
Both in light and in darkness, Steph counts incessantly to counteract a psychic upset: 1,001, 1,002, 1,003, 1,004 – but we’re not sure what. Bell suggests the use of narrative as a tool to combat Steph’s numeric chant. A series of queasy tales are invented with each character contributing plot lines, sometimes tearing up each other’s narrative to change the trajectory of their lurid inventions – very much reminiscent of the way in which artists destroy the canvas of a rival artist’s work. As the play proceeds, we learn that Charlie may have been looking for her birth mother, Tracey, before she disappeared. It’s the reason why Charlie walked into the broken-down bar in the first place. But here’s the rub, we’re never sure what is fact or fiction, what is real, what has a concrete existence, and what may never have existed at all. And it doesn’t matter because life is like that. We retell and rephrase stories about our own lives all the time, from different perspectives and from real and imagined places.
Finally, it has to be said the two actors, Bryony Davies and Laura Woodward are highly gifted artists who keep us deliciously captive in their stories, even when told in the dark.
Review by Loretta Monaco
It’s the future. But only slightly. There are blackouts. No one knows what’s causing them, but that doesn’t stop people going missing in them.
The London premiere of pastiche dystopian thriller A Girl In School Uniform (Walks Into A Bar) takes place at the New Diorama Theatre on 30 January.
Set in an unsettling and elusively dystopian near future, Steph and Bell live in a time where uncertainty is everywhere, and violence against women is rife; murders and disappearances are rife.
So, when their friend goes missing, they must do all they can to get her back before it’s too late.
A Girl In School Uniform (Walks Into A Bar) is written and directed by Lulu Raczka and Ali Pidsley (NOTHING, Some People Talk About Violence), a highly rated duo with a Sunday Times Playwrighting Award and Buzz Goodbody Award for Directing to their name.
Lulu Raczka’s dark, compelling tale deals with relationships between women and systematic abuses of gender power to create a surreal yet highly recognisable story about crisis, friendship and hope, while director Ali Pidsley’s highly stylised dystopia pastiche plunges audiences into darkness both figuratively and literally.
LONDON LISTINGS INFORMATION
A GIRL IN SCHOOL UNIFORM (WALKS INTO A BAR)
by Lulu Raczka and Ali Pidsley
30 Jan – 17 Feb
New Diorama Theatre
15-16 Triton Street
London NW1 3BF