Girl Band

21 May

Directed by Lucy Clements, Girl Band by Katy Warner is a wonderful satire on the music industry and pop culture – but it’s also a poignant exploration of power.

It’s 1994 and The Sensation Girls are on the cusp. Orchestrated by the ever unseen Darren and Craig, they’re a line up to inspire young women (and to make a heap of money, though not for the Girls themselves.) In one song, each of the group introduces themselves: “I’m smart! I’m sexy! I’m strong! I’m smiley! I’m sassy!” For young women, it’s no doubt an invaluable lesson in self-esteem (and stereotyping, and alliteration.)

With composition by Zoe Rinkel and lyrics by Warner, the production also beautifully skewers the music produced by manufactured groups.  “Boy Crazy” not only doesn’t pass the Bechdel test; its inane repetition ensures it can’t pass the Goldfish test. “I’m boy crazy. Boy crazy. I’m boy….” You know the rest.  Wisely, we’re not asked to listen to the entire song.

Similarly, the choreography by Amy Hack captures brilliantly the double standards of this musical genre. The lyrics of “Maybe” suggest a sweet uncertainty about the singer’s romantic interest, but the hilarious pseudo-sexy choreography leaves little doubt.

The play is set in the rehearsal room as the five group members prepare for a big industry showcase. Chaya Ocampo as Jade gives a terrific comic performance as a show business character whose “I’m smart!” is deliciously and unconsciously ironic. Jade Fuda and Meg Clarke as lovers capture the tensions created by management’s homophobic insistence on secrecy. LJ Wilson as MJ sings “I’m smiley!” while being delightfully not. MJ’s smarting because previous lead Didi has left and the vacated role has gone to new girl, Kiki. Of course, that’s not her real name, just another imposition from above. Kiki or Kathleen (played with magical exuberance by Madeline Marie Dona) is going to shake things up. Why can’t the girls have more creative control?

And so it comes down to power. Becky is the group’s choreographer, and Hack is magnificent in the role. While very funny, it’s simultaneously a deliberately disturbing portrait of complicity. Becky is reluctant to make waves, and there’s much more to management’s malevolence than just a cynical commitment to inauthenticity.

And that’s where the play’s exploration of power becomes particularly provocative. Our workplace can create misery in many ways, but are all those ways related? The slippery slope argument will always appear most convincing to those who have known real fear.

Paul Gilchrist

Girl Band by Katy Warner

at Riverside until 27 May

Image by Phil Erbacher

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