Angus, Thongs and Even More Snogging
Mark Catley and Louise Rennison
West Yorkshire Playhouse and Micklelou Productions
West Yorkshire Playhouse
From 11 February 2012 to 03 March 2012
Review by Mark Smith
While Ian Brown takes his dignified bow in the West Yorkshire Playhouse's Courtyard stage with the excellent Waiting for Godot, some vair marvy (and somewhat more exuberant) proceedings are afoot in the main Quarry space.
Based on Louise Rennison's massively popular "Confessions of Georgia Nicolson" series of books (from Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging to Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me?), the show manages to compress storylines from most of the ten novels into two and a quarter hours of frothy, playful, energetic theatre designed to thrill the young (female) teens of the target audience. And the production does much to win over audience members beyond this catchment area, once the safe enough but nonetheless slightly terrifying audience interaction of the opening is past. (I should point out that this was only terrifying to me as a well-beyond teenage male, unaccompanied by alibi-providing children, faced with the prospect of any form of social interaction with a group of fearless twenty-something women, recent drama school graduates, dressed in school uniforms).
The set from the get-go offers a glimpse into what teenage girls' minds might be imagined to contain: bright colours, bric-à-brac, and boys—often tantalisingly out of reach on pedestals at the back of the stage, rocking out via large Marshall amps in the delightfully only-just-competent teen band the Stiff Dylans. This design, by Hannah Clark, provides a wonderful open space in which Ryan McBryde's cast can play, as well as many pleasing twists and manipulations. The use of space sees the cast constantly on the move, which mitigates the fact that much of the grouping itself is fairly unadventurously square on. But this is largely due to the very nature of the show, narrated by Naomi Petersen as Georgia, which whips along at breakneck pace, speeding from episode to episode in order to cram in as much as possible of the overarching narrative of the ten original books, most, if not all, of which get at least a nod.
And the success of the show is largely down to the charisma of Petersen's central performance, and to the overwhelming likeability of the whole cast. Petersen is impeccably cast as the loveable, confused, crude, matey but not laddish central figure, and her energy and amiability do much to carry the production. It is thanks to her (and McBryde's direction) that sometimes samey sections of writing sparkle, and she turns the somewhat limited palette of the script into a range of more interesting tones, never weighing too heavily on the crudity or, indeed, on the anguish, either of which would risk sinking the story. She is rarely off the stage, and the energy and buoyancy she brings, without veering into unsympathetic caricature, is joyous.
Georgia's friends, the Ace Gang, are also portrayed by magnetic, gifted young comic performers. The often hilarious Emily Houghton is Rosie, the more bonkers one, Rachel Caffrey is Jas, the more attractive (and arguably slightly more balanced) one, and Yemisi Oyinloye is Ellen, the quiet and slightly slower one. The key antagonist, "Wet" Lindsay, is played by Mabel Clements with an admirably straight face. George Potts as Dad (sorry, "Vati"—Georgia somewhat inexplicably dubs her parents with German nicknames) and Herr Kamyer gets a duo of tasty comic roles as well as even tastier further cameos, and Margaret Cabourn-Smith is utterly transformed between the sexy, knowing Mutti and the buttoned-down but quietly smouldering drama teacher Miss Wilson.
And the boys look to be having a whale of a time, too. Edward Green's Robbie is the first obscure object of Georgia's desire, though after a lovely love montage he's largely written out of the picture. Lewis Rainer gives a good comic performance as the awkward, chummy "Dave the Laugh", but it is Leon Scott who really impresses as Masimo, the Italian—what? exchange student? the production never makes it clear—who arrives on the scene and turns Georgia's head after Robbie's departure. He is also the most musically talented of the Stiff Dylans, and is immersed in his comic portrayal in a way that some of the other cast might be said not to be: it is an over-the-top character, but one which takes himself with the utmost seriousness. Or seriosity, as Georgia/Rennison would probably say.
As a relative newcomer to the world of Georgia Nicolson, however, I must express a few misgivings. Where I have doubts is not over the show's entertainment value for teen girls—this is, of course, its prime aim, and long may this last if it brings young adults into the theatre to witness an enjoyable and inventive couple of hours of theatre. But it seems to me that the strong message that emerges from it all is that boys give your life meaning. I'm not the first to observe that Georgia Nicolson is constantly defined by the boy she is snogging, wants to snog or might have the opportunity to snog. In this adaptation's rush to take us on a whirlwind tour of key moments from all of the novels, it either brushes only superficially or misses out entirely some elements of the original material which might spark more thought-provoking themes and discussions. This, surely, is one of any good teen literature's (or theatre's) strong points.
One of the clear final messages is, however, that youngsters should be allowed to be young, make mistakes, have fun. I'm all for that, but shouldn't girls this age also be reassured that there's more to life than boys?