Theatre Review: Those Girls // JAM Productions – Edinburgh Fringe 2020

Those Girls

5 / 5 Stars

An adaptation and extension of Abigail Cook’s poem How We Survive (Girlhood), JAM Productions have taken this show to the Fringe before as a well-received, more traditional production. This digital, electrifying take on the same material is, if anything, more visceral. Those Girls has a frank, searing quality, relentless in its emotional vice grip as the stresses and dangers of teenage life are laid bare. 

Cook’s poem is interjected with testimonies from girls, and quotes about the never ending cycle of the seasons that hit a particular resonance (one at the end from Yoko Ono feels especially apt). They cover a number of hard-hitting topics such as eating disorders, racism, relationships and drugs. More broadly, all the girls capture a lack of self-worth or feeling in the face of neverending change and challenges, the lamenting music adding to the sense of sadness and (at times) tragedy. Their stories are heart-wrenching, with a tangible honesty and poignancy. You are dared to look away upon being invited to confront some of the girl’s darkest secrets about their lives – “secrets they didn’t even know they had.”

Visually Those Girls is triumphant, the overbearing manner of the onscreen text betraying that at times stifled words of the girls. It makes a clear point of how the subjects discussed here are often read and written about, but very rarely brought up in discussion. It is this silence, at times almost absence, that tortures the girls in their teenage years to the point where they don’t know anything other than self-hate. “I don’t know how to be if not this,” as one of them puts it.

The VHS-style graphics throughout render the stories like they are personal video diaries. There is an unyielding visual energy that powers the production through until the end, stopping only for brief moments to let words sink in fully. The stylisation at times has the feel of a diary or scrapbook, with flickering polaroid photos and quick snaps to desolate-looking footage.

This is as perfect a piece of online theatre as you could hope for, sacrificing nothing whilst making full potential of the new medium. In less than 20 minutes, JAM Productions give you a sharp reminder of the hardships of growing up in a world that leaves you unprepared and defenceless. If, by the end, you are sitting there welling up at these magnificently performed tales of struggle and emotional fracture, you will realise just how essential stories like this are.

Words by James Hanton.

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