Typical Girls review – prison punks are too polite

Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
Clean Break theatre company and the Crucible join forces in Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s worthwhile if underpowered play featuring the music of the Slits

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

Contributor

Clare Brennan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Steel review – sisters beaten by the system
Thin characterisation and half-formed scenes mar this play about women, race and Labour politics set in a northern city

Clare Brennan

23, Sep, 2018 @7:00 AM

Article image
The week in theatre: Standing at the Sky’s Edge; Downstate; Richard III – review
A new musical with songs by Richard Hawley is set in Sheffield but richly resonant for all

Susannah Clapp

23, Mar, 2019 @4:00 PM

Article image
Here's What She Said to Me review – a hugely ambitious Nigerian-Yorkshire family saga
Three fine actors portray more than 35 characters in Mojisola Elufowoju’s impressive production of Oladipo Agboluaje’s new play

Clare Brennan

08, Nov, 2020 @9:30 AM

Article image
Julius Caesar review – a powerful examination of rhetoric
Shakespeare is rooted in our era of fake news in artistic director Robert Hastie’s outstanding first production for the Crucible

Clare Brennan

04, Jun, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Talent review – Victoria Wood’s first play comes home
Wood’s trademarks are all in place in her talent-show debut drama, first performed at the Crucible in 1978

Clare Brennan

11, Jul, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Close Quarters review – a brave battle of preconceptions
Crucible, Sheffield
A crack ensemble delivers Kate Bowen’s timely new play exploring identity and gender through female officers on their first tour of duty

Clare Brennan

04, Nov, 2018 @8:00 AM

Article image
Flowers for Mrs Harris review – seamlessly dazzling dreams
An improbable new musical about a postwar London charlady in love with haute couture works like a charm

Clare Brennan

29, May, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
Reasons to Stay Alive review – hope beats the black dog
Matt Haig converses with his younger self in this engaging take on his memoir about depression

Clare Brennan

22, Sep, 2019 @4:30 AM

Article image
The Wizard of Oz review – follow this yellow brick road
A superb staging of the L Frank Baum classic works its magic in plain view with picture-book clarity

Clare Brennan

17, Dec, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Life of Pi review – Martel’s tall tale brought to astonishing life
Lolita Chakrabarti’s superbly acted adaptation of Yann Martel’s Booker-winner makes dazzling use of its interplay of illusions

Clare Brennan

14, Jul, 2019 @7:00 AM