By Rosie Niven
It’s the future. But only slightly. There are blackouts. And when blackouts happen, women disappear.
This is the premise for Lulu Raczka’s all too relevant work A Girl in School Uniform (Walks into a Bar), currently playing at Kings Cross Theatre. While it may sound like the start of a cheap joke, the subject matter covered in this dystopian piece is nothing but serious. The work takes place in a world that feels very close to ours, that is constantly plunged into darkness by inexplicable blackouts. With each blackout, more people go missing or end up dead. Some of those are accidents… some much more sinister.
A Girl in School Uniform follows nervous and privileged schoolgirl Stef (Caitlin Burley) as she searches for her friend Charlie, who’s gone missing after another blackout hit the town. When she visits the bar that Charlie was last seen in, she meets the headstrong Bell (Michelle Ny), a bartender who she tries to enlist in her search. Hit with yet another blackout, the women are forced to find solace together in a world that seems determined to chew them up and spit them out.
The script is a challenge for both cast and crew: the town constantly plunges into darkness and each time so are the actors and the audience, and for a portion of the show, we see very little. Our senses are heightened as we’re forced to rely on only our hearing until lights illuminate the space once more. While the actors are highly engaging and dynamic when the lights are on, even two talented actors such as Burley and Ny struggle to keep the engagement when the lights are out. Ultimately, it is Raczka’s script that doesn’t give them enough to play with, spinning them around in circles in the dark and never coming to a conclusion.
Director Hannah Goodwin has pulled together some strong crew for this work, and each of them aids in the creation of this dystopian future. Ella Butler’s set is simple yet effective, Jessica Dunn’s sound design is absolutely chilling, and Phoebe Pilcher’s creative lighting designer creates an army of shadows that dance around the women as the jump from games to horror stories. This is a team of fantastic women that I hope to see more from.
As a woman, A Girl in School Uniform is a work that is painful to watch. In a country where 36 women have been murdered this year, it’s no wonder that women are afraid of the dark. Goodwin has taken that fear and plunged us head first into it, with a level of bravery that should be commended. The notion of performing half the show in complete darkness would terrify even the best of creatives. While the show is brave, and incredibly important, there was something missing for me - I didn’t feel the fear I thought I would feel, and the urgency of finding Charlie or Tracey didn’t quite hit me. Much like the missing women in this dystopian world, parts of A Girl in School Uniform felt lost.
A Girl in School Uniform is playing at the Kings Cross Theatre until October 5.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.