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Monday, 21 July 2014

Where are All the Girls Going? In Praise of A First World Problem at Theatre 503


Do you ever wonder what really goes on in a girls' boarding school? Milly Thomas's new play, A First World Problem answered many of these questions in its 10 day run at Theatre 503.


Maybe it was so good for me because I recognised it. I'd been in one of those girls' boarding schools. Aged 11-18, packaged up with tuck box and hockey stick and deposited in the premier Krug (mine was more like Waitrose own brand) of women's educative establishments. Actually, that's unfair because I asked to go, yearned to go after I had read endless Enid Blyton novels as a child and I was lucky enough to be able to. But I saw endless girls that had been packaged up and left and it does the most wondeful things to some and the most terrible to others. 



I'm not saying this is typical teenage life in the UK today, it's obviously not. However, what you see in this production is a slice of upper-middle-class adolescence, a tiny microcosm of how things are in the modern day teenage brain. It's Lord of the Flies with Oestrogen and St Trinian's with anal.
We're white, we're westerners, we're girls and we're rich, of course we're fucking miserable. The standards are just too fucking high for us to be anything else.
Firstly I would like to iterate that the script is wonderful. The playwright and star, Milly Thomas has captured the bite and humour of privileged teenage girls' speech in its rawest form. Like Alan Bennett's The History Boys, no word is futile, it's pacy , shocking and laugh-out-loud fucking hilarious. 


The three actresses played the six characters with finesse and real physicality. I believed Molly Vevers sexy, broken-down, student-touching history teacher, Steve so truly that I almost fancied him myself, certainly understanding why Hebe (Milly Thomas), the protagonist wanted him. 

The general premise is this, three friends at school in their final year going through the confusion and angst of teenage womanhood with a bucket load of money, top class education and a impending pressure to get into Oxford as they are their parents greatest "investment".


Issues covered along the way include drugs (mostly ketamine), eating disorders, self-harm, pornography (including woman's enjoyment of it), masturbation, anal-sex, the female orgasm, bullying, racism, casual snobbery, lesbianism, Sado-masochism, friendship, abuse, student-teacher relations, depression and relationships. Yet none of it is too much. The script is so good that it makes valid, lucid observations on these issues without the audience feeling like they've stepped into a lesson/government lecture/gangster film. It doesn't glamourise, it plays with words so that you accept these things as normal and yet asks questions about why this is. And it's so witty (did I mention that) yet warming and soft at the same time. 
HEBE: It's like anything here. You're totally allowed to be depressed, bulimic, clinically anxious, anorexic, addicted to pornography, a binge-eater or a self-harmer or a card-carrying member of the BNP, you're like, totally allowed to be those things, but you just can't talk about it. You've gotta just. Ssh. 
You can talk about it with, like, one person. Maybe two. But you're pushing your luck with that.
When I got here I remember wanting to tell someone that I was unhappy and I wanted to go home but I cottoned on quick. Thank fuck. Not like poor Amelia. She'd be great fun if her very skin didn't weep issues. You see her walking around with a tear stained face, lugging too many books around that she's not going to read, trying to make people laugh, with superficial scars all up her forearms and when I see them it doesn't make me feel sorry for her, it makes me want to shake her. Like, bitch, don't you think we're all fucking miserable?..Could you not cut yourself on the scalp or the tops of your thighs or inside your vagina where no one can see like the rest of us? How can one person be so selfish?

It would not surprise me if Milly Thomas went all the way as a playwright. Certainly if she writes as well on anything else as she does on this subject, she will go far. As someone who is trying to write a play myself, I yearn for her succinctness.


Overall, I was left feeling positive at the talent displayed. If this is what these schools have given the artists in this piece, then perhaps it is worth the aching pressure and damage at the time.

The increase of pornography as a sex manual is worrying, as is the confusion and insecurity clearly felt by some of these young women, but really is it just like any other enforced same sex small society. The bitches and bullies may rule for a bit, but eventually life and/or their own humanity/insecurity has a funny way of outing them. 

What most worries me is that these girl-women are in some of the most privileged positions our country offers and if this is what they are experiencing in terms of sexism and moral-confusion, I dread to think what may be rife in educational establishments of their much less privileged counter parts. 
HEBE: Maybe, it's not normal.
HUGO: What? Anal?
HEBE: At our age. Maybe, it's not normal.
I would finish with, watch out for any of Milly Thomas's future runs or work. She is extraordinarily talented and I hope A First World Problem gets a longer run in a larger venue, because I want more people to see it and I for one, would see it again. 

A First World Problem was at Theatre 503, Latchmere Road 

*Thanks to Milly Thomas for sending through the quotes

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