Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Missing Pieces' production of "Girls" by Theresa Ikoko (2015)

This is just a quick piece, and that is because one does not need to say very much about Theresa Ikoko's Girls. And I mean that in the best possible sense. It is the sort of play for which reviewing does not seem especially helpful or adequate, other than to say: GO AND SEE IT.

First some facts by way of introduction: Girls is about three of the girls abducted by the terrorist group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria in April 2014. The play features a core cast of three - played by Chinwe Nwokolo, Sereece Bloomfield and Jessica Kennedy in this script-in-hand rehearsed-reading version from theatre company Missing Pieces and performed on Monday at the Bristol Old Vic. Ikoko's play won the Alfred Fagon Award 2015, an annual prize given to any British writer of African or Caribbean descent, and it has been highly praised by luminaries such as National Theatre director Rufus Norris.
It is easy to see why. Ikoko's play is raw and powerful, yet simple and utterly unfussy, never bogged down by stagey acrobatics. And - perhaps what is most remarkable - it is very, very funny. The humane warmth of these three young girls, all so individual and beautifully drawn, shines through with remarkable clarity. They quarrel, they bicker, they take the piss out of each other, they have moments to themselves where the masks come off.  The three performances are all effortlessly good, likeable and despairing and scary in equal measure. After mere moments, one is convinced that they are real.

As is, of course, their desperate situation. Coverage of those terrible events in Borno State has been far more thorough and emotive elsewhere, so I will not rephrase here, only to say that the profound and vivid bleakness of their turmoil - forced to convert to Islam, and to marry members of Boko Haram - is at no point in the story shied away from. Quite the opposite, in fact. Ikoko goes to great lengths to ensure that we are aware of how scared the girls are, how real their actions seem, and how insignificant they feel they are. One of the girls suggests the West only views terrorism as terrorism when between two different skin colours; if Africans commit crimes against themselves, that's civil war or internal struggle. It is a damning indictment of the lacking response our international community so often feebly offers up.

In her play, Ikoko goes some way to bring those girls forefront in our minds again; she is right to insist that they have a story that we need to hear. Like the best plays, Girls makes you leave the theatre with a thirst to do something. It does not instruct its audience, and is never sermonising, but it clears the airways of their minds. Ikoko recounts how Dennis Kelly has said that art does not need to answer the questions it poses; her play is a shining example of how to achieve this.

The short version? GO AND SEE IT. Or read it, or write to the author and beg her to let you put this play on at your local theatre. It is a play that deserves the widest of audiences.

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