Journey to X[author-post-rating] (3/5 Stars)

TS Drama Theatre Company’s performance of Irish playwright Nancy Harris’s comedy about an aspiring Irish girl band is very auspicious. Journey To X is a polemic against cultivated superficiality and inherent misogyny. This production communicates those themes with consideration and good humour.

The play simultaneously swipes at television talent contests and Irish abortion law, the main link between the two concepts being the “X” of the title. “X” refers not only to the enigmatic factor that a certain television talent show claims to determine, but to a Supreme Court case in 1992 in which a young girl’s identity was known only as X. The case is overtly acknowledged by 15-year-old Penny, discussing her options during an unwanted pregnancy. This is conveyed in certain terms although, much like real-life conversation which tends to prefer euphemisms, the word “pregnant” is never explicitly said, nor “abortion”.

Penny, who is acted with pathos-inducing visible anxiety, hopes to travel to the mainland where she will pay £500 for an abortion. Astoundingly, Penny’s school friends react to this by suggesting that they pop to the X Factor auditions en route. They need to acquire fake IDs for both anyway, so may as well to kill two birds with one stone, right? These teens really are vacuous, and are played befittingly so. Their obsession with fame renders them dysfunctional, even capable of theft. The child-like “would you rather…?” questions they ask each other are a realistic, human way of exploring the effect of superficial fame on a younger generation, cultivated to want all the trappings, with minimum graft.

Chris, also only 15, is the band’s self-appointed manager. He has a calculated approach to fame, including theories on how the British public vote, comprehensive studies of previous winners’ routines and flashcards with a step-by-step guide to naming the group. This scene is funny, with The Suffragettes and Guantanamo Babes both being rebuffed, but there is dramatic irony in the subtext of deciding on a name. Also at this point we get the arrival of Kieran, a noxious symbol of commonplace misogyny. Kieran is the foil through which Harris contends that the “right to choose” is one of many neglected women’s rights. Kieran is played with venom, hissing lines like “faggot” at Chris and spitting “sluts” at the girls.

Sometimes questionable creative choices make the setting hard to ascertain. For instance, the school uniform that the characters wear looks more like a stylised stage outfit than the white tee-shirts the gang plan to perform in. One transition, from airport to playground, is corroborated only by the sudden appearance of a red, Manchester United football. Not that I object to the football – as well as complementing the entirely red and black set design, it nods to the very real Irish fascination with Man United, helping to establish the location despite the absence of accents (Harris assertively requests that the performance be done in the actors’ natural voices). Also as much as I like the red suitcases, which are interestingly used for choreographed posing and re-enacting a robbery on a bus, they do not help said confusion when left kicking around on stage unused.

After the play, TC engages in LoveFringe’s interesting feedback idea, which encourages people to text in their rating with some criticism. Being a destitute student with crippling fees for anything outside my monthly contract, sadly I couldn’t. But I hope this gets my two cents across: this play is well performed and carefully considered; a delightful approach to a brilliantly written source material.

Journey To X is playing until 24 August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.