To a soundtrack of mid-2000s classics, Some Girl(s) sees groom-to-be ‘Guy’ (is it a name or a moniker for all of the male sex?) on a trip across the USA to see a selection of his ex-girlfriends. From the high school sweetheart he left behind in Seattle, to the ex-marital affair in Boston – he revisits the scenes of past break-ups in order to… well. We’re not sure. Is he attempting to clear his guilty conscience? Is he reassuring himself that his current fiancée is The One (he doesn’t seem convinced)? Or is he simply enjoying the final weeks of freedom before he takes his vows of fidelity?
We have to wait until the final scene for his primary motive to become clear, but what’s evident very quickly is that Guy is, in fact, not a nice guy. As it turns out, all of the disastrous ends to relationships that we see replayed were undeniably his fault. However much he attempts to make his habit of “running away” sound endearing and free from blame, we feel frustrated and indignant on behalf of these four women who have been left behind to pick up the pieces of their broken hearts and – in some cases – broken marriages. We’re left wondering why some of them turned up at all.
In the post-show Q and A, while the audiences rightly lauded the cast’s performances, much criticism was levelled at Neil LaBute, with many labelling him misogynist. It’s a fair conclusion to make: while on paper it looks fantastic having these four female roles available to four diverse actresses, the characters LaBute has created are like paper dolls that have been coloured in differently. They’re just like the hotel rooms (designed ingeniously by PJ McEvoy) that Guy stays in: formulaic, but with different colourings and trappings. With LaBute apparently focused on the male psychology, the female roles are formed of broad brushstrokes, each a stereotype fitting into a certain box: the high school sweetheart turned stay-at-home mother and wife; the wild girl who smokes and drinks her way through the meeting and reflects on their sexual experiments; the older woman who indulged in a disastrous affair with her younger colleague; and the Californian girl, all bouncy blonde hair and straight talk. It’s huge credit to the cast that they make these women so likeable and interesting.
As Sam, Guy’s first girlfriend and first revisit, Elly Condron defies the script’s tendency to box her into a stereotypically ‘boring’ existence by vividly portraying the inner frustrations and conflicting emotions: her desire to be rid of Guy forever, but also to uncover every painful detail of what really happened. Yet I couldn’t help but be disappointed by LaBute’s focus on the latter: I wanted to cheer when she slapped him, and felt frustrated every time she came sloping back. In the following scene we meet Tyler, played by Roxanne Pallett – and the scenario couldn’t be more different. She’s vivacious, brash and seemingly carefree, and Pallett gives a fire-cracking performance, making her hugely likeable. Her moments of vulnerability are carefully constrained without being overdone, and the tenderness beneath the bravado is believable, negotiating the clichés within LaBute’s text.
As poised professor Lindsay and Californian medic Bobbi, Carolyn Backhouse and Carly Stenson both control the room wonderfully; while their characters have fewer obvious layers, their ability to control the situation and not let Guy’s behaviour rule them makes the second half feel far more triumphant than the first.
In the post-show discussion, audience members quizzed Charles Dorfman on playing such a dislikeable character as Guy. Understandably, he pointed out that it is his job as an actor to empathise with his character; he’s probably the only person in the room who does. Guy has few redeeming features, his childishness and arrogance leaving a trail of hurt behind him – quite apart from all his past girlfriends, he doesn’t even remember to call his mother enough. Many of the laughs come with an overtone of gasps at how insensitive Guy can be, and quite how deeply he can put his foot in it. Dorfman does a sterling job, but it makes the play as a whole problematic: alongside four disappointingly uncomplicated female roles, we have one uncomplicated male who gets most of the playwright’s attention. By the end, we haven’t found an ounce of sympathy for him and it makes this character study inherently limited. We don’t want to know anything more about him; he’s not even evil, or troubled, or twisted – he’s just not very nice.
If you look the past the issues in the script, the opportunity to see a fine cast engage in a series of two-handers makes this show well worth a watch. Despite my reservations about the flat characters, LaBute’s dialogue is entertainingly snappy and spiky, and all five actors make the most of what they’re given to present a sparkling performance.
Some Girl(s) is playing at the Park Theatre until 6 August. For tickets and more information, see the Park Theatre website.
Photo: Claire Bilyard