Typical Girls review – a blast of punky gig-theatre fuelled by the Slits

Crucible, Sheffield
A group of female prisoners come together for a concert in Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s energetic and joyful play

You wait three years for a new Morgan Lloyd Malcolm play and two come along at once. This is the first, at Sheffield’s Crucible, ahead of Mum, which starts previews at Theatre Royal Plymouth this week.

The actors have clearly been straining at the leash to bring this show to the stage, an energy which contributes to the sense of a piece that is unruly but full of joy. While this works for the punk element of a show that is “part gig, part play”, it means the story, painted in broad brushstrokes, loses subtlety along the way.

Based on her time creating a short piece of theatre with the company Clean Break at HMP Send, the Emilia playwright has penned a story about a group of incarcerated women who come together for weekly music therapy sessions under the tutelage of Marie. Lucy Ellinson, as the earnest Marie, is given hints of an exterior life and while well cast as a woman who wants to make a difference, she lacks the punk swagger when it comes to the gig element.

Swagger … Eddy Queens and Lara Grace Ilori in Typical Girls.
Swagger … Eddy Queens and Lara Grace Ilori in Typical Girls. Photograph: Helen Murray

More convincing are the women around her who find a means of expression via punk, inspired largely by the band to which Marie introduces them, the Slits, whose song gives the show its title and a recurring refrain.

Put a group of troubled characters in a room together, turn up the pressure in the form of a concert for which they have to rehearse, and allow the inevitable to happen. It’s a piece reminiscent of early Richard Bean but, while funny, it lacks his malevolent humour, which is a shame because the opportunity is there with this group of characters.

The night’s standout performance comes from Alison Fitzjohn as Mouth, who adds layers to what could easily be a purely comic character, while the mysterious Jane is injected with odd humour by Helen Cripps – plus she can play the hell out of the drums. For all its flaws – stories left unresolved and speeches that are sometimes too on the nose – Typical Girls has a joy and energy that is undeniable.

  • At the Crucible theatre, Sheffield, until 16 October. Live-streamed on 6 October.


Nick Ahad

The GuardianTramp

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