Central to this twice adapted story of The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a phenomenal performance from Rona Morison, who manages to perfectly capture the irritating whininess of a 15-year-old without being, in any way, grating.
Morison retains this convincingly youthful air throughout, throwing tantrums not at her seemingly unfeeling mother but at the (very) adult man she is sleeping with. She pauses for breath only to deliver us startling dildo wielding monologues; she is simultaneously funny and haunting and manages to fill the Southwark Playhouse’s Little space with bustling, excitable, and often disturbing energy.
Originally a 2002 graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, writer and director Marielle Heller fell in love with The Diary of a Teenage Girl ten years ago, and first turned it into an Off-Broadway play, taking the lead herself. In 2015, Heller brought it to a new audience as a feature film, starring Kristen Wiig, and received critical acclaim for her honest, brutal interpretation. It also thrust British actor Bel Powley into the Hollywood limelight.
Set in free-spirited 1970s San Francisco, Minnie (Morison) is a typical teenager longing to have her first sexual experience, unaware of the emotional catastrophe it inevitably involves. She starts a relationship with Monroe (Jamie Wilkes), the carefree boyfriend of her mother (Rebecca Trehearn) – a woman initially more concerned with the effects of her daughter’s burgeoning sexuality than her actual welfare.
Andrew Riley’s set is minimal but carefully versatile with a bed the focal point of the stage, also doubling as a sometime bar and café. Gloeckner’s original illustrations pop up regularly into the aesthetic, giving an actual 80s vibe, but adds depth to the design and life to the drawings. Janis Joplin is a welcome partial soundtrack to Minnie’s awakening.
Alexander Parker and Amy Ewbank’s direction here does not serve the multiple angles offered by the Little’s space. Most of the time the performers act to the front and very rarely the sides of the stage, leaving those members of the audience missing crucial elements of the story.
It’s fantastic to firstly hear the point of view of a teenage girl and to see her experience desire, rather than chat about it. And secondly, it is so important to have this character grow before our eyes and become a woman. But not in the physical sense. The confidence to say enough is enough, to say “I am better than you”, to a grown man, and for her to be portrayed as the dominant person is very exciting indeed.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an empowering story and thankfully, we are finally seeing it on a London stage. The performances are all impressive, but Morison especially is the star. If you’re looking for something inspiring and a little different post International Women’s Day, make this your stop.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl is playing the Southwark Playhouse until 25 March.