Typical Girls is a new play by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, writer of the triple Olivier award-winning Emilia. The title is taken from a song by the majority female 70s punk band the Slits. It’s adopted as their anthem by Jane, Geordie, Precious, Mouth and Munch – volunteers for a series of music workshops being delivered in the mental health unit of a female prison. The workshops are led by visiting tutor Marie, who encourages the women to pick up instruments so they can follow the punk example and “shout about things that [mean] something to them”. Will the resulting band be allowed to perform their expletive-laden, shoplifting-celebrating numbers to an audience that includes members of the local community hostile to the “therapeutic methods” being practised at the prison?
The Crucible, here, is co-producer with groundbreaking women’s theatre company Clean Break, established in 1979 (the year Typical Girls was released) to “transform the lives of women with criminal justice experience” and “share the often hidden stories of women and crime with audiences”. Such stories come across strongly in the monologues and songs inserted into the action, and powerfully delivered by the cast, directed by Róisín McBrinn. These sections communicate a sense of raw, punk-style energy (musical direction by Rosie Bergonzi).
Elsewhere, though, the play keeps the party polite; its tone is tame, its structure old-fashioned – a sort of cross between a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland musical (Mom’s garage here replaced by a hall in HMP) and The Sound of Music (nice lady with guitar inspires through the power of music). Didactic writing stands in for dramatic development, giving the impression that we are watching not so much a play as a consciousness-raising exercise around the theme: prisons should provide meaningful activities. The message is important and bears repetition, but deserves to be put forward in a form either more theatrically radical or better crafted than this.
• Typical Girls is at the Crucible, Sheffield, until 16 October