Jacqueline Wilson, adapted by Vicky Ireland
Lyric Theatre, The Lowry, Salford
Bad Girls is Polka's latest dramatisation of a work by best-selling children's author Jacqueline Wilson, adapted and directed by Vicky Ireland. The adaptation is extremely faithful to the novel, leaving out very little, if any of the original story. This makes it rather a long performance for a children's play - two hours including the interval - especially as the pace often lags.
Bad Girls is the story of Mandy, a bright young girl who does well at school but who gets teased because her parents, who are much older than the other children's parents, tend to baby her and dress her in clothes with bunnies on them and make her wear her hair in plaits. She makes friends with an older girl called Tanya who moves in with a foster parent over the road and who is trendy and rebellious. However Tanya starts stealing from shops and ends up getting both of them into trouble. The story touches on a number of issues in an accessible way, such as bullying, fostering, stealing, problems in families and friendship.
Susan Harrison and Luanna Priestman are excellent as Mandy and Tanya respectively, putting across the impression of a pre-teen and teenage girl without resorting to any of the adult-playing-child clichés that sometimes creep into some of the others' performances. Sally Armstrong is also very good as Mandy's mother, making her fussy but human and caring, not ridiculous. The most touching and the funniest moments in this play tend to be between these three; the scene where Mandy has to say goodbye to Tanya is very moving. Apart from the two main girls, the remainder of the cast of nine actors all play multiple roles.
There are a number of elements of the design that would be very effective in a small hall but seem a little out of place in the large, modern Lyric Theatre. Different locations were mostly represented by wheeling on clothes rails draped with different kinds of objects. Cast members changed transparencies on two overhead projectors at the foot of the stage, which projected images onto the set, although only one of them was projected onto a good surface. Although the cast joined together to play multiple roles and to change scenery and projections, this still did not have the feel of a true ensemble production. They managed to successfully battle the poor acoustics in the Lyric and the background music, which was usually too loud when it was underscoring dialogue.
This adaptation is still structured as a novel rather than as a play, and so, despite some very effective scenes, the pace sometimes seems to drag and some parts appear far more polished than others. However, as an adaptation of one of the UK's most successful novelists - she is the most-borrowed author from British libraries and a recent signing by her at a local bookshop saw children and parents queuing for hours around the block - this production is bound to be attractive to Jacqueline Wilson's many fans.
"Bad Girls" runs until 24 July 2004 and continues to tour until November (details on their website)
Reviewer: David Chadderton