Director: Becky Hope-Palmer
Musical Director: Rachel Barnes
Set Designer: Ed Ullyart
Costume Designer: Tiffany Wilkinson-Morris
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
East Riding Theatre in Beverley has made great progress in less than three years, with a remarkable number of impressive home-grown productions. Resident company, She Productions, a collective of talented young female actors and musicians, has had much to do with that, and It’s Different for Girls is yet another audience success, though not one of the theatre’s more memorable productions.
It’s Different for Girls is devised by the company – which is both its strength and its weakness. There is a buoyant team-work throughout the likeable ensemble, but the whole thing lacks shape and there is little dramatic progression, the final “Will she, won’t she?” ending feeling tagged on and almost as perfunctory as the updated feminist message.
The play is inspired by the Hull girl band of the 1960s, Mandy and the Girlfriends, and the involvement of some of the original Girlfriends in writing a programme essay is welcome: She Productions are generously open about the origins of their Sindy and the Girlfriends.
We start with the mini-skirted group in concert, a well-drilled ensemble moving almost robotically to their music. As they change into their individual clothes, different personalities begin to emerge, the music now original songs by Rachel Barnes or her clever conflation of 1960s hits applied to the girls themselves. Then, in the second half, they tour American bases in Germany, with fairly predictable adventures and some conflict within the group.
Abey Bradbury’s energy and talent for comedy are ideal for the boisterous, ever-hungry drummer Betsy. Her friendship with Mitzi (Sophie Coward) is nicely drawn, Coward also proving particularly adept at brief character sketches of the other people in the Girlfriends’ lives. Alice Rose Palmer is amusingly naive as Poppet, the youngest of the group, with the best singing voice, and Rachel Barnes carries some of the more serious scenes as Vicki, trying to balance dedication to music and a desire for marriage and stability.
The character of Sindy herself (Annie Kirkman) is something of a problem. Kirkman and director Becky Hope-Palmer seem overly concerned to emphasise her otherness from the rest of the group which moves towards outright alienation via pay differentials and a growing sense of inadequacy. There are hints of her troubles before the final outburst, but for much of the play, she simply comes across as lacking personality and individuality.
Hope-Palmer’s production is lively and unfussy, never departing far from the band set-up in Ed Ullyart’s straightforward designs. Tiffany Wilkinson-Morris’ costumes differentiate the girls’ characters effectively and provide a simple code to the extra characters taken on by the five actors with the aid of a hat, a wrap or a pair of spectacles. These scenes are invariably well played, notably by the various cast members who take on the tyrannical band manager, Mrs. Smith, but a weakness in the play is that the problems they present are never really examined. For instance, Poppet’s father objects to her going to Germany; he states his case; Mrs. Smith smoothes things out and no sooner is the problem raised than it is solved.
Runs until 23 September 2017 | Image: Contributed