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Girls by Theresa Ikoko at Soho Theatre London – Review

Girls at Soho TheatreThe words ‘Boko Haram’ are never uttered in Girls, even if one cannot help but draw parallels between events in the play and the actions of the fundamentalist militant group, given the West African accents of Haleema (Anita-Joy Uwajeh), Ruhab (Yvette Boakye) and Tisana (Abiola Ogunbiyi). But their story could be applied to anybody who has felt powerless and abandoned, whether being held hostage and in a crisis situation or in a mere so-called ‘first world problem’ (momentarily stuck in a lift, for instance), whether making news headlines or just quietly battling through difficult circumstances.

That is not to say that this play is all doom and gloom – its multi-layered narrative gives it validity and credibility. There are the hysterics and the ‘what if’ scenarios that play on the girls’ minds, somewhat inevitably as there is limited activity to pass the time. Beyond that, there are the rampant imaginations of the characters, which while on the surface can come across as infantile, have much to say about the world in which we live and the characteristics of human nature. In any event, their trains of thought are commensurate with being young and still full of hope and ambition.

There is much humour in a strong script from Theresa Ikoko – and something for everyone, too. Different members of the audience tittered and chuckled at different lines. For me, the lack of political correctness was most refreshing: the show’s setting, in a secluded compound, meant the girls were at liberty to say what they liked. And they go for it, with references to social media, the opposite sex and a specific episode of the animated television series Family Guy. These are more essential to the play than one could envisage at first sight (as opposed to reflecting on it with the benefit of hindsight), and the production could have been burdensome and exhausting viewing without much needed comic relief.

The ending, though harrowing, seemed a little rushed and underdeveloped. Whilst being able to understand what exactly had happened, I was slightly nonplussed as to precisely how or why the final scene came to be what it was, and frankly it wasn’t explained very well. I am perhaps being too fussy, and there is nothing wrong with having a conclusion that isn’t neat and tidy – but in this instance the story felt incomplete. This may have been deliberate, and either way I do not know why the play holds back from giving its audience the full effect that could have been achieved in the final scene either through re-enactment, description or both.

An unintentional moment of amusement came with the first mention of ‘garri’, apparently a type of grain popular in West Africa. My initial thought was, ‘Gary who?’ More widely, at times the play is a slow burner, and other times it goes the other way and rattles through swiftly – rarely is a happy medium achieved. With twenty-seven scenes crammed into a single act, it’s intense theatre, and the all-female cast depicts the power that certain men have over them in an absorbing fashion.

There is a lot of ground covered in this play, with points made about how government spin machines are just as crafty, if not more so, in Africa as they are elsewhere, and whether a large number of retweets or YouTube views ultimately makes much of a difference. Yes, the show raises more questions than it answers, but this is preferable to a preachy play. It is, in the end, superbly acted, and a worthwhile experience, leaving plenty of food for thought.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

“Why is everyone so bloody obsessed with hashtags? Can you use it to shoot your way out of here?”
Three girls. Best friends forever. All the big issues: love, sex and religion…

But when they’re kidnapped from home, their world is turned upside down. Hope and despair blur, jokes and fights become one, and the only hash tag that matters now is survival.

A funny and fiercely passionate new play about enduring friendship, the power of imagination and the stories behind the headlines that quickly become yesterday’s news.

Theresa Ikoko’s Girls is a Verity Bargate Award finalist and winner of the Alfred Fagon Award (2015) and George Devine Award (2016). She is a Talawa Writers’ Programme Playwright.

Directed by Elayce Ismail (The Rise and Shine of Comrade Fiasco, Iphigenia Quartet: Chorus, Nanjing), Girls makes its London premiere at Soho Theatre this autumn in a co-production with Talawa Theatre Company and HighTide, following its HighTide Festival world premiere.

Kindly supported by The London Community Foundation and Cockayne – Grants for the Arts

Tuesday 27th September – Saturday 29th October 2016, 7.15pm (2.30pm Thu & Sat matinees)
Soho Theatre
Running Time: approximately 90 mins
Age Recommendation: 14+


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