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That Girl vs The World at Jack Studio Theatre | Review

I know it’s not that long ago, but do you remember what happened in summer 2023? For various reasons, I have a lot of personal memories of that period, as does George Lester, whose summer was so traumatic he has turned it into a play, That Girl vs The World, which I caught at the Jack Studio Theatre.

That Girl vs The World at Jack Studio Theatre
That Girl vs The World at Jack Studio Theatre

That Girl (George Lester) is a drag queen. Nothing odd in that you may think. Since Ru Paul took over BBC III and pretty much the world with Drag Race, the queens are everywhere these days. That Girl knows lots of queens and when one of them is lucky enough to be picked as a Drag Idol contestant – via some work in Turkey – That Girl agrees to take over the successful Drag Brunch and Drag Story Time events at the Honor Oak pub in South London. All goes well initially, and then someone, with more time than intelligence, decided to stir things up and denounce the storytelling as a threat to children. Events escalated with members of far-right groups jumping in and starting protests at the pub – well the football season had finished, and they needed something to fill their mindless bigot-filled hours. Events escalated and a storm was unleashed, one that did not go the way the ‘protesters’ expected.

That Girl vs The World is not an average one-person monologue. For a start, George knows the audience is there so they can happily chat directly to them. Secondly, we get to see inside George’s mind and the things that influence them. So we have Intrudi, George’s other drag alter-ego who appears – thanks to some amazing video projection designed by Luke Adamson, who also directs the show – to act as a guide and conscience and all-round commentator who is happy to berate George if, for example, they feel the story is not moving on fast enough. Then there are the other thoughts George carries around with them, which leads to some very impressive and energetic lip-synching, not only to songs but also clips from movies, TV shows, etc that live in George’s head. The video work is really well done, with That Girl interacting with Intrudi so naturally that you can forget it’s a pre-recorded video. Not only that, but George duets with themself a couple of times – including my all-time favourite duet ‘Happy Days Are Here Again/Come on Get Happy’ – and it’s really spectacular to see and hear.

George, as That Girl and George as George comes across as a really lovely person. Warm and friendly, they establish a quick rapport with the audience as they sit in the sanctuary of their dressing room getting ready. And here, I’m really going to express my admiration. Anyone who can deliver the story George does whilst completing their eye make-up really deserves a round of applause. The setting worked well to create a good safe space for That Girl and the audience to interact. It kept the real world at bay, though the sounds from outside of protestors was a constant sound reminding us and The Girl what was out there.

You can google the events described above as they really happened to George who was hailed for their bravery in facing down the thugs, as to my mind they were. But the production makes clear that the reality is George/That Girl didn’t feel particularly brave but went through with Drag Story Time because it was the right thing to do and, in many ways because the protestors had an agenda that was more than protecting children from a non-existent threat. Did George come through the events of Summer 2023 unscathed? Given they produced a first-rate, totally absorbing play out of what happened, probably not. But I hope the play gives George closure.

Running at around one hour forty, with interval, That Girl vs The World is a fascinating look into George’s mind. At times sad, funny, hilarious, and downright bonkers, the show avoids all the easy options to simply rant about the protesters and instead gives the audience a wonderful experience where hope and love trumps hate. I would like to thank them for sharing such a traumatic time with us. I just hope our support and love of That Girl came over the footlights to them.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Creative Team
Writer: George Lester
Director: Luke Adamson
Video Design: Luke Adamson
Lighting Design: JLA Productions
Sound Design: JLA Productions
Produced by The Bridge House Theatre

Cast
That Girl/Intrudi – George Lester

Who’d have thought that putting on a dress and reading some stories would lead to war on the streets of South London? Meet That Girl. If there’s one thing you need to know about That Girl, it’s that she loves books: she loves writing them and she loves reading them.

One day while getting ready to do just that she found herself in the middle of the new wave of an age-old battle. What followed was a media storm like nothing she had ever faced before, a storm that circulated lies, dog whistling and scaremongering in an attempt to ruin her.

But That Girl, and the local community, had other ideas. What started as reading books about kindness and inclusivity to children became a battle of false principles and faux outrage that taught That Girl more about the power of community and the strength within than she’d have thought possible. And now it’s time for her to tell her story.

THAT GIRL VS THE WORLD
Tuesday 28 May – Saturday 1 June at 7.30 pm
Running time: One hour and forty, including a fifteen-minute interval
Jack Studio Theatre

Kindred by Aimee Walker-Reid at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

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