How does one communicate without a voice? How does someone remain who they once were without a face? What are the masks all of us wear? What impact do the failings of the parent wreak upon the child? Who among us are capable of compassion and forgiveness?
This play has a lot of things on its mind. While aimed predominantly at a teenage audience the themes resonant far beyond that demographic. It is also a showcase for a large cast of excellent young actresses (14-19) more than ably supported by older actors in critical adult roles. The scope of its ambition is impressive.
The main storyline revolves around Marina (Elizabeth Offer), the mysterious newcomer who will share a dormitory with seven other classmates. She does not talk after a horrific incident that has seen her face scarred in an acid attack and her father sent to prison. Marina’s arrival precipitates a mix of reactions from within the group. Foremost among them is Sophie (Darcie Azzam) who is sarcastic and cruel; Cathy (Abigail Morritt) who will lend support and a kind ear; and Kate (Katie Toner), the rebel of the group, who will accuse Marina of being the thief plaguing the dorm. The other girls are the ditsy Ann (Shannon Berry), Lisa (Emily Theseira) who aspires to be school captain; Tracey (Brittany Isaia) who reveals her own fears and angst despite having ‘perfect parents’; the bubbly Rikki (Nahdarin Yahya); and the kind hearted Emma (Bre Edelman).
Their teacher, Mrs Lindell (Mary Murphy) has asked them all to keep a journal which only Marina studiously does. It is here that we discover the otherwise mute Marina’s thoughts and concerns, mainly wanting to meet her father who she oddly does not condemn.
The play is elaborately constructed and quite busy. In many ways it has been written more as a screenplay than a play with ‘cutaways’ to brief scenes such as Marina’s father (Rhett Clarke) in his jail cell; her mother (Kate Offer) haranguing her in calls and letters; and a ‘flashback’ story strand at a ski resort before Marina’s incident. The latter is capably handled by Georgie Kinnane, Gen Verity, Clare Smale, and Nicola Kinnane as Marina’s friends but really only serves to give context to the predicament Marina finds herself in. It perhaps needed its own punctuation point to add true depth and insight.
The major device, however, is Elizabeth Offer reading Marina’s journal entries to telling effect. Indeed, all throughout the play written communication is a key component – through journal entries, poems, and letters. It highlights the power of the written word for those who don’t have ‘a voice’. The class scenes are therefore important as lessons are imparted by the sympathetic Mrs Lindell and Mary Murphy has great rapport with the young cast in these moments.
There are the usual shenanigans in any dorm room as anything from petty issues such as borrowing a hair-dryer to under-age drinking test the group dynamics. The prefect Jodi (Kiah Van Vlijmen), and school staff Miss Curzon (Sereena Coleman) and Mrs Graham (Kelly Van Geest) try forlornly to keep a lid on the antics.
Revelations come to the fore as the girls talk amongst themselves, most notably when discussing their parents. Theseira has a key scene in the second act where she reveals that her character’s family situation isn’t as rosy as what the others thought. It’s a theme that runs throughout the play – how the young teenagers deal with and react to their parents’ foibles.
It’s here where the play shines with the talented cast able to play off each other in the longer scenes. The cutaways tend to slow things down and while the staging is ingenious with panels that open out from the side walls to create other locations, it becomes problematic with the number of changes required. An eclectic mix of music is used during these transitions, again in a movie like manner. The songs are chosen for the relevance of the lyrics but we go from a liberal use of The Beatles to all sorts of bands from different decades and musical styles. That, at times, felt a little too offbeat. The end of the first act was also an interesting choice with a highly stylised scene that was unlike anything else in the play. Lasers, dry ice, rock music and theatricality, while creating a compelling moment, seemed tonally out of kilter.
The climax for Marina is powerful and on point emotionally but I was caught a little off guard when the play ends suddenly. Overall though, this is a thought provoking and wonderful showcase for a crop of younger actors who were universally very good. The standouts for me were Katie Toner who is excellent as the loud, rebellious, narky Kate; Elizabeth Offer as Marina who has to be both a cowed mute and a sympathetic narrator of sorts through her journal entries; Darcie Azzam is suitably feisty as the ‘bitchy’ Sophie; Emily Theseira is convincing in a pivotal role; and Mary Murphy was very good as the sympathetic teacher. A special mention here to Rhett Clarke who conveyed a lot of emotion in a small amount of ‘screen time’.