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FLIES by Charlie Josephine at Shoreditch Town Hall

I can see you”, “Who you looking at?”, “You looking at me?”, are the first words almost spat out by the seven young women who are posing with attitude, arms crossed defiantly as the audience enters the auditorium at the Shoreditch Town Hall. They stare at the audience daring them to respond to the aggression and contempt they’re showing. They’re feisty and in your face pivoting a metaphorical mirror 180 degrees into the faces of the audience to show them the kind of problems they face nearly every day as men objectify them and treat them as sexual objects rather than young women.

Flies, Boundless Theatre, photo credit Chelsey Cliff, performance design credit Cat Fuller.
Flies, Boundless Theatre, photo credit Chelsey Cliff, performance design credit Cat Fuller.

Award-winning playwright Charlie Josephine’s play Flies is a powerful piece of writing that examines the male attitude to the opposite sex and the kind of thing women of all ages but especially young ones, have to deal with almost every day. In the case of Flies, they’re just 14 and are already having to deal with the pressure to have sex, to watch porn and to have to spurn unwanted advances. At that age they already know more than past generations with the availability of hard-core pornography online, messaging apps and body-shaming – it’s probably never been harder to be a young girl approaching puberty, heading towards womanhood.

Josephine’s play explores all of this and more and the cast interact with each other bearing their souls and sharing the problems they all face. It starts with them discussing what play they should perform – they don’t want to do anything by “dead white guys” – and whilst it’s advertised as a response to William Golding’s Lord Of The Flies, they discard that as an idea although (small spoiler alert) the end descends into the kind of anarchy that features in Golding’s book.

During the seventy or so minutes of the play’s duration, we get some-hip hop, dance, video, and music as well as some sharp dialogue as the girls bounce off each other and dialogue overlaps, occasionally making it hard to hear what has been said. It’s very meta with lots of mentions of what the writer wanted and what she meant – they know they’re in a play.

Flies is an interesting and valuable piece of theatre about female empowerment very well written and well performed by the ensemble cast of Afriya-Jasmine Nylander, Annabel Gray, Ellie-Rose Amit, Louisa Hamdi, Pearl Adams, Rosa Amos and Willow Traynor all of whom are Brit School alumni and that closeness shows in their excellent performances.

My (hopefully creative) criticism is that at times it’s almost over-directed by Julia Head with too much going on. The powerful words speak for themselves and the audience doesn’t need the photoshoot lightbulb flashes and the fact that the performers are trapped in their environment and can’t escape. It’s also somewhat overdesigned, set in the world of a photoshoot with the kind of rolled backcloth used in fashion shoots, with lots of lights and tables with photographers’ paraphernalia on them. Whilst this is an interesting way to echo the opening “I can see you” dialogue, it seems a bit superfluous and a simpler setting would have sufficed.

Flies is raw, bold, and radical and tells it like it is. It’s written from real-life experiences which makes it even more shocking. “Who are you looking at?” is a question that needs answering and Flies should make every man who sees it, think twice about their attitude to the opposite sex and how they can improve it.

4 stars

Review by Alan Fitter

Award-winning writer Charlie Josephine (I, Joan, The Globe) radically responds to William Golding’s classic Lord of the Flies in their new piece Flies – A powerful and contemporary allegory on consent and the fetishisation of the female body.

This new show explodes with tales of girlhood, and the messy joy and sticky shame that come with it. Written from young women’s real experiences expect raw honesty, humour, and sweaty dance.

Boundless Theatre & Shoreditch Town Hall
by Charlie Josephine

WED 22 FEB – SAT 11 MAR 2023

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