Morgan Lloyd Malcolm
Sheffield Theatres and Clean Break
Typical Girls is an exciting, dynamic, raw play set in a specialised unit inside a prison. Written by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, it focuses on a small group of women who have elected to join a music class where they will work together to form a punk rock band which may be given the opportunity to perform to a public audience.
The class is led by Marie who strongly believes that engagement in music will not only provide learning and occupation for the women but also enjoyment and even joy. The class is a difficult one. The women have emotional and behavioural problems which may have contributed to their ‘lived experience of the criminal justice system’ and initially they are reluctant to commit to the task. Slowly and gradually, all the women are drawn in and as rehearsals proceed, each one displays genuine talent in creating and performing punk rock music.
The scenario is based on the work of Clean Break Theatre Company, which refers to women in their educational and theatrical programmes as ‘members’ each equally valued whether leaders or participants. There is no ‘othering’ and the projects aim to help the women to achieve their full potential.
Malcolm’s play script abides by this principle. There is no reference to the crimes that have led to the incarceration of the women. We meet them in the NOW of the first day’s meeting and follow them through to the NOW of their final performance. Along the way, we hear about one woman’s anguish at being separated from her children; and another talks us through a ‘typical’ day when a long night in a cell starts at 8PM and many spend the time cleaning for want of any other occupation.
We get to know the women by the language they use, their anger, their withdrawal, their depression, their lack of self-belief and latent aggression. But also, by the creativity of the words they find to express themselves in the raucous, often anarchic songs and the unbelievable energy they pour into loud performance of the aggressive music.
By the end of the play, when it looks as if the proposed concert will be cancelled, it is Marie not the women who engages in rebellion and revolutionary action. Her commitment and passionate belief in the value of the project outstrips any consideration of consequences. An interesting debate arises between Marie and Jo Eccles, a facilitator on the prison staff who argues that prison rules and the opinion of the wider community should be adhered to so that similar projects could run in the future. For Marie, who can see how much benefit the women have derived from the experience, this is not good enough.
A full audience, largely of young people, rose to cheer at the end of the performance. Some may have loved punk music and others may have identified strongly with the content of the play. It is certainly a thought-provoking, dynamic theatrical experience, supported by an excellent cast who not only act with conviction but play the punk music like professionals. Not to be missed.
Reviewer: Velda Harris