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The Girlz
The Review Page.

There are three reviews of Judy's short play from the Richmond Orange Tree run. The picture features Nicky Marks (as Stacey) and Heidi James (as Tara).

Judy Upton's ever-promising career takes another small leap forward with this tantalising foray into characteristic Upton territory, the febrile world of foul-mouthed, disadvantaged young females from the south-east. This time we're given a brief, comic and disturbing insight into the friendship of two schoolgirls, 16 and sour already. Smoking companions in petty crime, sybaritic sylph Tara (Heidi James) pushes her more serious-minded mate Stacey (Nicky Marks) into shagging 'big loverman' car mechanic Shaun (Danny Spring). And all apparently because 'the girlz' might otherwise be considered 'lezbians' by the likes of knee-booted bully Roxanne (Hilary Perkins). Meanwhile, the minx Tara also has designs on Kenneth Harvey's admirably crisp, Scottish teacher of English, Mr Kelsey...

Cutting snappily from schoolyard to classroom to disco, with basic staging and a happening soundtrack, George Ormond's production looks and feels like an adaptation of one of those Blue Jean photo-stories about overheated adolescent eroticism. That may be an appropriate and enjoyable enough treatment, but the tale of teenage bitch and hutch needs more detailed and controlled playing to have much depth. It doesn't do justice to the neat way Upton pinpoints the rhythm, rhyme and reason of the girls' impudent repartee, bringing into focus a drama of beguiling simplicity Stacey finally takes the control over her life that Tara will inevitably lose.  The play requires more skill than most of the cast bring to it, but it still makes for a stimulating lunch hour, and above all it whets the appetite for a more accomplished production of a full-length play by the same writer.

Charles Godfrey-Faussett - Time Out 25/3: 1/4/1998

Company policy is to commission plays for the Room that will complement whatever is currently showing at the main Orange Tree.  At the moment that is a good production of Macbeth, but how might Judy Upton's short play about English schoolgirls reflect upon dynastic struggles in 11th-century Scotland?

The fat chance of any convincing link preoccupied me as I climbed the stairs to what was evidently not going to be Durisinane, but the dilemmas confronting Upton's girls/girlz proved sufficiently engrossing to drive the quest for parallels out of my mind. They are there, in one girl's manipulation of her best friend, but nobody would hit upon them without help.

This tangential impingement is no worry, however, because complements come at different ranges. For example, the next to arrive looks likely to be focusing directly on the original target when Nicholas McInerny picks up Eppie's story from Silas Marner, playing in the main 'house, and suggests what happens to her 30 years later.

But back to The Girlz. Stacey and Tara are in their mid-teens, due to take their GCSEs in a few months but preoccupied, in different ways, with sex. In the opening scene they have just lifted tradeable goods from some store's perfume counter and are sharing the contents, as well as their erotic ambitions, in a casual, matter-of-fact manner, slightly salted with joshing. Although both are evenly matched when it comes to lacing their talk with sexual images, Heidi James's Tara is the experienced one, with several boyfriends behind her, most of whom she has allowed to go "all the way". She is worried that Stacey isn't keeping up with her and does not even seem interested in ending her virginity. "You can't wait till you get to sixth form college!" Tara protests, with every evidence of genuine incomprehension.

Nicky Marks's Stacey may explain that she wants to study, wants to wait for the right boy, and so forth, but such is the culture of today's school life - and such are audience assumptions - that the more Stacey defends her reticence the more she fits into her peers' assumptions that she is lesbian.

Is she?  Or is she at 15 still waiting for love and hormones to edge her towards a boy?  How depressing that it matters so much, but seemingly it does, and Upton's dialogue vividly reveals the intensity of playground pressure to conform.  She also cleverly seeds doubts about the motives of Tara, whose transparently seductive approach to a teacher may be part of a camouflage she may not know she wants.

On Tim Meacock's ingeniously all-purpose set of grass/carpet and wall George Ormond's direction has the impact of a high wave, breaking on the crisis (Stacey's decision to follow a trend) and then exposing the consequences in quietly level tones, where Marks movingly shows the gravity that comes, with understanding treachery, looking askance and projecting silent contempt.

Jeremy Kingston - The Times 24/3/98

There are times when predictability doesn't hurt a play. And in the case of Judy Upton's The Girlz, it simply adds to the solid ring of real life.

Tara and Stacey have been best friends since the age of five.  Now in their teens at a tough comprehensive school, they are still inseparable. They share the simple pleasures of stealing perfume, smoking 40 a day and going to clubs. But the subject of sex is putting a strain on their relationship.

Tara constantly regales Stacey with tales of her conquests, but Stacey is shy and wary with the opposite sex. The reason isn't hard to divine: Stacey's elder sister was labelled a "slag" for her free and easy favours and ended up pregnant. Stacey is desperate to avoid the same fate, but now finds herself pilloried for being supposedly the world's last virgin. Worse, her reputation for being the hardest girl in her year is beginning to go against her. She's been labelled a lesbian, and that has uncomfortable implications for her close pal.

The answer, Tara decides, is for Stacey to lose her virginity to local romeo Shaun. Stacey knows it's wrong. She doesn't even like Shaun; perhaps she is a lesbian. But Upton's realistic and incisive script dramatically conveys the pressures that weigh on a girl of Stacey's age, and how easy it is to do the wrong thing. Upton also weaves in a well handled subplot about Tara's attempt to seduce her English teacher.

There are clear, deliberate parallels between The Girlz and Macbeth, currently playing in the Orange Tree Theatre's main house. Tara is like Lady Macbeth, manipulating the physically bullish but scared and weak-willed Stacey to do her bidding, then face the consequences alone. But Upton has transposed this situation into the '90s and created a vibrant and hugely plausible study of peer pressure, friendship, insecurity and betrayal.

The success of The Girlz lies in Upton's always convincing use of (often strong) language and some beautifully judged performances, particularly from the principals - Heidi James as Tara and Nicky Marks as Stacey. I have no idea how old these actresses are, but I doubt if I have ever seen schoolgirl angst more realistically portrayed.

Danny Spring also shines as laddish garage hand Shaun, especially during the tricky-to-handle scene when he discovers he is about to become a dad. But then neither the actors nor the writer ever seem to put a foot wrong in this short but punchy piece of theatre.

Douglas McPherson - What's On 25/3/1998

The Review Pages:
[Everlasting Rose] [Ashes and Sand] [Temple] [The Shorewatchers' House] [Bruises] [Stealing Souls]
[Sunspots] [People on the River] [To Blusher with Love] [The Girlz] [Know Your Rights] [Confidence]
[The Ballad of a Thin Man] [Sliding with Suzanne]

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