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Shewolves by Sarah Middleton at Southwark Playhouse

(Oxford Dictionary) Effervescent: adj. Giving off bubbles; fizzy.

Fizzy. Fizz. That’s exactly what we get from the two outstanding performers in this show – Harriet Waters as Lou and Gurjot Dhaliwal as Priya – they bubble, they sparkle they FIZZ!

SHEWOLVES - Pamela Raith Photography.
SHEWOLVES – Pamela Raith Photography.

They, the characters, also take lumps out of each other and then put them back; they then take bigger lumps out of each other and carefully replace them; and finally, they take really massive lumps out of each other and manage to just about get them restored into their frail egos though scars still remain and take some healing. But as Waters and Dhaliwal take us with them through their trepidatious yomp through an unforgiving Peak District – and, more poignantly – through that equally unforgiving roller-coaster ride commonly known as Life – we share their emotions, we feel their pain and, most of all, we enjoy and applaud their fizz.

It’s a great double act by these two vivacious performers, who bubble and squeak and sparkle and rage: they’re on the run and they ain’t gonna take no prisoners – confirmed when Lou produces “something she made earlier”. If you didn’t know any better you’d say they were just like a couple of teenage schoolgirls posing for social media, showing off their angst and looking for ever more recalcitrant ways to fly in the face of authority. Yes, we might just write them off as such if we weren’t also let into the darker sides of their teenage lives.

The script has stuff about the climate emergency and the end of civilisation as we know it and … er … Greta Thunberg. But the play isn’t really about that: it’s about being alone, about loneliness, and about survival. Survival in the Peak District becomes a metaphor for survival in the world, the world of parents and schools and ‘friends’ and followers and Insta stories. Against all that the Peak District on a cold wet autumn night in a draughty bothy doesn’t compare.

Lou is the prim and proper one. She’s the climate activist, suspended – and then expelled – from school for her silent protests à la Thunberg. Waters gets

Lou to a T – the brain-scrambling dichotomy of fulfilling parental expectations of excelling at everything whilst desperately wanting to make her own mark on the world and follow in the footsteps of her heroine Greta. A sensitive and truly perceptive performance by Waters.

Then we have loud and loquacious Priya. Serial loser – at least that’s how she views herself – Dhaliwal gets right inside the head of the teenager desperate to belong, to join in, to be accepted. Lou has a cause and Priya wants to join it not because she believes in it or knows much about it but because it might give her an entrée, an opportunity, a route to survival. Dhaliwal’s abrasive lack of seriousness and showy gutter-speak pushes us away at first but we warm to her hidden sensitivity and, eventually, we start to understand her complex impulses, just as Lou does. It’s an ultimately engaging performance.

Sarah Middleton’s poetic script has a captivating rhythm to it which draws us in, gradually, almost imperceptibly, until we feel like we’re in the bothy with the girls, sharing their lows, their elation and, naturally, their Pop Tarts. Not being a Pop Tart Epicurean I don’t know whether they fizz – but everything else about the play does. And fizz-inducer-in-chief, director Hannah Stone, ensures with her crisp and uncluttered direction, that we are fizzing as we leave the Southwark Playhouse and make our way across the road to Mercato Metropolitano to get a Prosecco.

In a small space, lighting can present problems but Anna Reddyhoff comes up with an interesting and effective design complemented well by Eleanor Isherwood’s soundscape and music.

There’s not much wrong with this show which cleverly captures the sheer effervescence of teenage girls – their bubbly natures which often hide their darker insecurities and fears. It offers an enjoyable hour of, perhaps, something we might term as a new genre of theatre: Fizzertainment.

4 stars

Review by Peter Yates

Armed with a backpack full of Pop-tarts and a hunger to tackle climate change, Priya and Lou, embark on a covert expedition into the wild. But when the wilderness closes in around them, can they overcome their differences to make their voices heard?

SHEWOLVES is an uplifting coming-of-age comedy.

SHEWOLVES Productions, in association with Southwark Playhouse and JOP Arts, presents
by Sarah Middleton
21 JUN – 8 JUL 2023

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  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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