Friday, 7 September 2018

REVIEW: That Girl at the Old Red Lion

Brighton’s Broken Silence Theatre and their artistic director Tim Cook present “That Girl” at the Old Red Lion in London, a play by Hatty Jones about friendships that change with the digital age, the comfort in being defined by a job, and the importance of listening. 

Madeline! What girl doesn’t remember the children’s books about the young positive orphan walking around Paris wearing her little hat? Well, in 1998, a Hollywood film was made, and Hatty Jones, also acting in “That Girl”, was picked out of hundreds of girls to play the young heroine. Twenty years later (has it been that long?), following drama school, her character is now working in advertising, a normal job that reassures her in its simplicity because it doesn’t bring with it thousands of questions – unlike when you tell people you’re an actor. 

Hatty has been living with her best friend (Alex Reynolds) in Camden, and we meet them as they are preparing to move out, as their other flatmate is getting married. 

Their flat, which is made comfortable in this black theatre thanks to a carpeted floor, is filled with boxes, and Hatty can never seem to get around to closing her last suitcase, preferring to order in Turkish food and sip alcohol to calm her nerves. While she insists on having a relaxed last evening in, something is not quite right: she panics and rejects her friend’s wish to invite her new boyfriend over, and “fake” complains about the umpteenth time she was recognised for Madeline at her work cafeteria that day. 

There’s something that reminded me of Lena Dunham in Hatty: the pain of growing up – not quite understanding that some people may change and leave one’s life, and not accepting that this may be a good thing. 

Equally, the theme of not listening to the person next to you is central in this play. So many of the conversations go back and forth towards nothing. Phones ring, sometimes highly meaningful words are spoken about doubts and the future, but the other has just received a new notification. I loved the way Jones’s writing, and the actors, led by director Tim Cook, kept interrupting each other, misunderstanding simple words. As a result, genuine words that are actually heard become so significant.

When the boyfriend (Will Adolfi) enters the stage, he soon recognises Hatty’s
face from Madeline. Instead of listening to her strangely personal monologue, he only cares about taking a picture with her. Later, when she strips to a sexy nightgown and starts dancing with him, we don’t know whether he’s enjoying this or wants to run away. Adolfi is intriguing here, playing a self-doubting late 20-something. His good looks somehow also play a role, in that one would think that a classically handsome young man would have few doubts in the world. However, he brings a fragility to his role, also as his other character the accountant who is obsessed with food and his clean bathroom. 

Reynolds is very natural and happy go lucky. At the same time, she cares about her career and is hurt that Hatty doesn’t even really understand what she does as a freelance writer and teacher. After so many years of friendship, age sometimes just breaks things off.

Jones is funny and surprising as a woman who so desperately wants to remain a child. She pretends her role as Madeline is in the past but we find her secretly watching her old clips late at night, and admitting to preferring numbness to awareness of the world. 

I do feel the piece could have been longer, and I hope the next episode of this piece will be Hatty going to her sister’s, dealing with her real self. However, this is a strong play with a great contemporary-feeling cast for today’s world which remains true to what it means to reach 30.

Review by Sophie Tergeist

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: free seating | Price of Ticket: £16
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