Girls is a play which likes to play around with expectations. It begins in a forest, in an unnamed African country, with the three eponymous girls chatting innocuously about sex and relationships. This quickly descends into a riptide of gunfire and bombs as the characters run for cover and are captured by an unnamed paramilitary force. The rest of the play takes place in the midst of their day to day lives as prisoners of the unseen force.
Although it is heavily implied that these are some of the missing schoolgirls Boko Haram captured back in April 2014, dates or names are never referenced. Indeed, the three girls are the only characters to appear in the play. This allows the focus to remain squarely on the girls’ relationship and struggle rather than lapsing into a play about Islamic terrorism or Nigerian politics. However, this does not mean the play does not provide any biting social commentary on the issues at hand. While, again, the ‘Bring back our girls’ hashtag is never referenced explicitly, there is a very candid scene in which Haleema (Anita-Joy Uwajeh) ponders in frustration “What on earth do you want to do with a hashtag? Can you use it to shoot your way out of here?”.
Another theme of the play is that they are “old news” and have subsequently been forgotten not only in the west but by their own government. The poignant implication here is that in the 24-hour news cycle ‘maybe Rihanna’s pregnant?’ is easier to report on than an ongoing humanitarian crisis.
The three performances from Uwejah, Yvette Boakye and Abiola Ogunbiyi are stellar across the board. In roles that could easily be played hysterically or descend into caricature they approach them with a subtlety and sensitivity that lifts the already exceptional script.
One criticism I might offer is that it could do with being a little shorter. While the performances definitely bring enough to the table to carry the piece, by the end I was wishing for a change of scenery. Another problem I might add is that the ending (no spoilers of course) was a little confusing to me. Whether this ambiguity was intended or the staging just didn’t gel with me I’m not quite sure.
Overall, this play will leave its audience with a lot to think about and discuss. It challenges our perceptions of crises and those human beings who are involuntarily entwined in them. This play has a lot to say and is saying it, loudly. All it needs is for us to listen.
Girls is playing Soho Theatre until the 29 October. For more information and tickets, see Soho Theatre website.