The Shape of a Girl

Graffiti Theatre Company presents 'The Shape of a Girl' by Joan McLeod.

Graffiti Theatre Company presents 'The Shape of a Girl' by Joan McLeod.

Graffiti’s latest production fulfils a number of criteria that makes it suitable for theatre in education but the most salient box it ticks is the capacity to generate post-match discussion. It’s a provocative play that should stir the teenagers who get into workshops after seeing it in their schools.

Before hitting the road to the classroom it was given a showcase production by Graffiti at their impressive base on Assumption Road in Cork. This converted old church is rich with character and is now well designed as an intimate theatre space. Graffiti’s work in educational theatre sometimes misses the radar for the theatre-going public who tend to see plays at eight o’clock at night and in theatres, of all places, while Graffiti usually get busy by day touring their many productions to classrooms and school halls.

To say this latest outing is about bullying is reductive. Through a series of multi-layered stories – drawn from home, school and the media – it explores how power plays out in our relationships, and how we use scapegoats to strengthen the bonds within the group by setting up against a selected enemy. We don’t have to look far for high-profile real life cases in this territory.

The script is quite sophisticated as it moves through time, moods and recurring scenes, although at times the play itself runs the risk of becoming unnecessarily confusing by the extent of the chopping and changing. While Graffiti have made a practice of commissioning plays especially from young Cork writers, this play by Joan McLeod has earned its spurs internationally over many years. Originally set in Canada, some references have been altered to an Irish setting but these changes are slight and the work does not pretend to be an adaptation.

'The Shape of a Girl' by joan McLeod.One actor talking for 90 minutes can challenge the attention span of an audience, not least one made up of teenagers. That could prove problematic. Sophie Connon’s engaging and emotionally assured performance does help in keeping us with the story which has interesting ways of coming at the question of whether some of us in the margins of cruelty have blood on our hands too.

The showcase performance under Emelie FitzGibbon’s intelligent and carefully modulated direction, also exhibits high production standards in design. A hallmark of the direction here is the economy of effect. As the teenage girl begins to tell us about a scene from her childhood playing with friends, there is no rushing to another part of the stage or a squeaking into a childish voice. Instead Connon simply sinks to her knees as though she were playing with dolls.

Connon is also sensitive to the changing moods of the play where fear, cruelty, violence and tenderness interlink. She’s got to move between lighter, goofy teenager moments to heavier scenes and she changes gear without any heavy-handedness in her performance.

Cormac O’Connor’s sound design subtly underscores these moods throughout the 90 minutes with a mixture of chimes, guitar chords and various warped sounds. Eoin Winning’s lighting doesn’t deal in flash effects and his design emerges from the script itself as, for instance, spectral shadows seem to grow from the stage during creepier moments, and watching television is simply a slightly glaring light flickering on Connon’s face.

Central to the stage design is a bedroom and seaside and the canniness of Ronan FitzGibbon’s design is to overlay the natural and domestic landscapes, where for instance the bed is – well – embedded in a pile of sand.

On its own terms The Shape of a Girl is an interesting, well constructed play given a very professional outing here. The main reservation is not so much to criticise it for what it is but for what it is not. That goes back to the limited dynamism available to an audience in a one-person show. But for what it is, it works very well.

Liam Heylin’s play, Gdirl from Gdansk, was staged in Washington by Keegan Theatre in March. Meridian Theatre toured an earlier play, Love, Peace & Robbery nationally before Keegan took it to New York. Heylin works as a journalist for the Irish Examiner.

  • Review
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The Shape of a Girl by Joan McLeod

27-28 October 2010; and touring to schools.

Produced by Graffiti Theatre Company
In Graffiti Theatre

Director: Emelie FitzGibbon

Set & Poster Design: Ronan FitzGibbon

Sound Design: Cormac O’Connor

Lighting Design: Eoin Winning

With: Sophie Connon