The answer is a certain yes. Somewhere between homage and pastiche, it may follow familiars beats of a high school drama with its own bubbly personality that, channelled by director Monique Touko, bounces off the stage with all the jittery energy of a clandestine sugar rush.
Set in a girls’ boarding school in 1986, Paulina is the Queen bee. Her friends buzz around her despite her thinly veiled cruelty. She slices them with sneakily deployed backhanded compliments, they won’t admit that they bleed and turn a blind eye to her toxicity.
School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play company. Photo: Manuel Harlan
Paulina’s world crumbles when Erica, a wealthy mixed race student transfers from America. She lures the friendship group away from Paulina with her airy American accent, doe-eyed smile, and promise of Calvin Klein dresses. The power struggle reaches a hot-tempered climax when a beauty pageant recruiter comes looking for the next Miss Ghana. All the cruelty and teenage insecurity comes to the boil.
Charming performances across the board ensure there is plenty of heart as well as melancholy. Tara Tijani’s gorgeously timed Paulina switches from sweet sentimentality to sour sassiness in the switch of a hat. We are never sure what we make of her. Her cattiness is repellent, borderline sociopathic. Underneath lies a flawed human being who feels painfully familiar pangs of teenage life. The surrounding ensemble of friends are equally lovingly characterised, bounding with the razor-sharp chutzpah only a brazen teenager could muster.
School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play. Credit: Manuel Harlan
Despite the sparkling humour there is a hefty dose of bitter in the bittersweetness. Some the insecurities of the ensemble of young African women amplify specific social structures: the question they ask themselves is not just 'am I beautiful enough?' but 'is my skin light enough?' It tugs on tender heartstrings. Unachievable beauty standards are made all the more impossible.
One moment towards the play’s finale says it all: the girls gleefully cheer when Miss South Africa is announced as a finalist in the Miss Global Universe pageant. They cheer as one of their own is on the world stage standing shoulder to shoulder with beautiful women from Europe and America. The only problem? 'She’s a white.' One of the girls dismisses their glee with a perfectly pitched deadpan delivery. The audience roar with laughter but there is a weighty poignance hiding beneath the surface.
|What||School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play, Lyric Hammersmith review|
|Where||Lyric Hammersmith, Lyric Square, King St, W6 0QL | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Hammersmith (All lines) (underground)|
08 Jun 23 – 15 Jul 23, 7:30 PM – 8:50 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|