We live in a world where women are taken.
Or, because euphemisms are another kind of betrayal, killed. Overwhelmingly by men.
They are swallowed up and appear again as a news story to be predated upon, their images picked apart, their personhoods mangled. As was Eurydice Dixon’s, as was Corryn Rayney’s, as was Courtney Herron’s.
The violence is manifold, and continues after death.
According to Our Watch, almost one in 10 women have experienced violence by a stranger since the age of 15.
A Girl in School Uniform (Walks into a Bar) is a play that isn’t set in our world, but the parallels are foreboding. In this dystopian city, blackouts fall without warning, and when the lights return, some women don’t.
One of these to go missing is a young schoolgirl, Charlie. Her friend Stef (Cait Burley) traces her final steps to a grimy dive bar, deep in the catacombs of an Orwellian city. Instead of answers, she finds a barmaid called Bell (Michelle Ny), who sneers at her naivety, mocks her privilege, and boots her out.
When Charlie’s body is found, Stef returns, seeking resolution and leads to a fresh mystery. Bell gives her nothing, least of all sympathy. Did she really believe the police’s account of what happened?
Is she really so dumb as to take their word what happened was an ‘accident’?
At least half of the play is performed in complete darkness, cut through at intervals with a harsh, bouncing flashlight.
Eerily, the voices of the girl and the woman intermingle and take on a power of their own. Telling stories to each other to keep their fears at bay, they sculpt the blackness to create alternate realities, probe at truths, enact hypotheticals. Yet get no closer to the question: “Where is Tracey?” – another missing person.
With sheer sudden ruptures that leave the watcher more blind, the visual world returns.
Written by young UK playwright Lulu Raczka and directed by Hannah Goodwin, A Girl in School Uniform confronts the unseen monsters that lurk where women are alone in a public space. Aptly, there is no neat resolution.
But though its message is haunting and entirely attuned to the undercurrents rippling through the cultural psyche, the piece falls frustratingly flat.
There is no dynamism to the two characters’ emotions: Stef is constantly distressed and gasping; Bell is unrelentingly sardonic. The emotional pitch, tightly screwed from scene one, becomes monotonous, such that the relatively short stage time of 75 minutes labours on.
Even when the plot twisted, I didn’t feel shocked. Walking home from my bus stop that same evening around 11pm, it didn’t occur to me to feel afraid.
Jessica Dunn’s soundscape is effective in creating an ambience bubbling with disquiet, likewise Phoebe Pilcher’s dingy green lighting. The young performers show great aptitude, and the opening night audience showed great support.
Walk into the Kings Cross Hotel to see A Girl in School Uniform, playing until 5 October in the theatre upstairs.
This content created with the support of City of Sydney