Moments after shoplifting a party dress, Poppy hits the deck in a dead faint.
She comes around quickly and manages to get out of the store without being caught. But her troubles aren’t over.
Katie Pollock’s new play Normal is inspired by a somewhat notorious real-life case.
In 2011 in the town of Le Roy, New York, a number of girls started to develop symptoms resembling Tourette’s syndrome.
They experienced facial tics, limb spasms and verbal outbursts and for a while, Le Roy became a focus of media attention as doctors, psychologists and scientists tried to discover what lay behind the phenomenon.
Was it the result of infectious disease? Was it a form of group hysteria promulgated by social media? Or, as environmental campaigner Erin Brockovich suggested, was it the toxic fallout of a train derailment years before, one that dumped thousands of gallons of chemicals into the local ecosystem?
Normal isn’t principally concerned with solving a mystery, though it is intriguing at that level. More interestingly, it explores acceptance and ostracism in a tight-knit community of teenaged girls navigating the stresses of contemporary life: the pressure to conform and succeed; family breakdown; the social hierarchies of school, and the viral nature of peer influence.
Played on a raised rectangular platform (a Kelsey Lee design) and directed by Anthony Skuse, the staging is non-naturalistic and attractively simple.
With no scene setting, and sound designer Cluny Edwards’ near-constant underscoring adding to the tension, an already economically-written script zips by in about 75 minutes.
A versatile and sharply-drilled cast of four play a number of roles. Alexandra Morgan is Poppy. Cecilia Morrow doubles as similarly afflicted friend Sasha and Poppy’s divorcee mother. Finley Penrose is Poppy’s rebellious grammar school-bound BFF Sky (also a curious psychologist). Chika Ikogwe is a weary shop assistant, Sasha’s concerned Christian mum, and Ms Holt, a school principal hoping to minimise reputational damage.
While it’s a broadly appealing play, Normal also strikes as one that would be of interest to a high school-aged audience, in particular to those studying Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Pollock’s Poppy and Miller’s Abigail – young women struggling for agency, whose bodies become sites of rebellion – would be great subjects for a compare-and-contrast exercise.