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Julia Grogan won the ETPEP (Experienced Theatre Practitioners Early Playwrighting) award for Playfight and it is easy to see why. This is one of the most honest portrayals of life as a young woman that I have seen in a very long time. The play discusses first love, exam results and arguments with parents; but it also dissects — in detail — masturbation, drug use and self-harm. A frilly piece about teenage friendship, this is not.
Written for the stage but adapted for Zoom, Playfight is to adolescent female friendship what Trainspotting is to that of boys. It’s raw, open and at times, brutal.
The story revolves around the relationships between three girls; churchy Lucy, academic Zainab and outgoing Keira. The play begins with them at fifteen years; discovering their sexualities, navigating relationships and clashing with parents — swearing and mocking each other all the way. Some might be shocked by the language these fifteen-year-olds use and I question whether the outrage would be so biting if these teenagers were boys.
The characters age to their mid-twenties by the “curtain” and their lives have drastically changed. This work would certainly test an actor but the three protagonists handle it brilliantly. Hannah Millward brings a joyful innocence to Lucy, which (without giving away any spoilers) makes the conclusion of her story ever the more poignant. Robyn Cara plays Zainab with aching integrity and Helen Monks rounds off the three with her spicy portrayal of zealous Keira. All three are accomplished actors with, I hope, bright futures full of interesting work. The intimacy and closeness evident between the three overcomes the difficult fact that they must not have been able to meet in person during rehearsal and filming.
Grogan’s writing is roughly beautiful; oscillating between confrontation and tenderness by the second. It’s crude, candid and assaulting, like teenage friendship can be. I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a fictional work which deals so well with issues like sexual coercion and violent pornography. Humour, frankness and tenderness all play a part.
Blanche McIntyre’s direction is unfussy, allowing Grogan’s words to speak for themselves. The convention is established early on that characters would be performing in the same room and once the viewer gets used to that, it works well. The close-up and extreme close-up shots allow the viewer to focus on microexpressions and I think that Playfight shines in this format. The young women regularly meet at a tree, which they call only “Tree” as if it is a fourth member of their group. Shots at different points in the play return to Tree; literally and figuratively rooting the story.
In my opinion a good play makes you laugh, cry and ask yourself important questions. Playfight does all of these things and more. As a woman who was once a girl not unlike this trio; this is a hard watch. It forced me to confront some of my own choices as a teen and reminded me just how young fifteen really is. The very best artworks spur you into action; Playfight has inspired me to combat these deeply troubling societal norms wherever I can and praise doesn’t come much more highly than that.
Though it won’t be easy, you must watch this play. Playfight is also available with subtitles courtesy of Scenesaver.
Playfight is now streaming online until 8 April 2021. For more information and to book, visit Finborough Theatre online.