Guy is about to get married, and he is doing the unthinkable: travelling around the country to visit his ex-girlfriends and ensure that his slate is wiped clean before he joins his life with another for the rest of his days. Four women, four cities, and four very startling wake-up calls. ‘Guy’ – whose name is never mentioned in the script, and who might also simply be referred to as ‘Man’, ‘Bloke’, or any of your exes’ names – represents every man who has ever hurt a partner through his own self-absorption and selfishness.
Director Gary Condes has collaborated with designer P.J. McEvoy to create quite an astonishing and creative multi-faceted set. Between each scene, lit only by the glow of a projector giving an aerial ‘plane-ride’ view of each city Guy visits, stage crew dressed as chambermaids change over the set to give the appearance of a completely different hotel room than the scene before. It was fascinating and enjoyable to be able to watch this changeover, and even more creative was the clever way in which each room seemed to match both the personality and clothing of the women inhabiting them, as well as the city and the respective moments of Guy’s life. When I later discovered that this is only Buckland Theatre Company’s second production, I was all the more impressed by the incredibly high level of imagination and skill in the production design.
When I interviewed Elly Condron last month, I asked about how Some Girl(s) presents the recurring theme in LaBute’s plays of pitting men and women against each other in a battle of the sexes, in which men always come out on top. She responded that she felt “LaBute was trying to refute the claim that his plays can sometimes be sexist or, worst case, misogynistic.” Despite attempting to write a play chiefly about women and creating a male protagonist as bumbling, idiotic and completely self-unaware as Guy, LaBute has completely failed in this respect. The four ex-girlfriends can be very easily pigeonholed into the stereotypes often seen in tiresome romantic comedies and popular culture in general: Sam (Elly Condron) is the Girl-Next-Door, Guy’s sweet and wholesome high school girlfriend, highlighting his fear of commitment and the future. Tyler (Roxanne Pallett) is the sexy, promiscuous wild child who gave him the freedom to explore his adventurous side, but who he ultimately tired of. Lindsay (Carolyn Backhouse) is the older married woman with whom he had an illicit and whom he left alone to pick up the pieces after their scandal was discovered. Bobbi (Carley Stenson) is the One That Got Away, the one who ultimately, in the final scene, forces him to recognise the damage he does to people. It was tiring and somewhat insulting to see these cliched stereotypes played out, yet again, under the guise of giving women the spotlight. While there is some satisfaction in hearing them honestly voice their feelings and reactions to what has been done to them, this swiftly turns to frustration when Guy moves on to the next one in line without recognising or apologising for his actions. In fact, while we do learn a great deal about Guy throughout the play, we learn almost nothing of his ex-girlfriends external to their relationship with him. We know that Bobbi is a doctor, that Sam is a mother and wife, that Tyler ‘does art stuff’ and that Lindsay is an academic. But the focus of each scene still remains on their relationship with Guy. LaBute’s Mormon background bleeds through in every moment of his exceptionally patriarchal writing. Guy is still at the centre of this story, a story that should belong to these women.
Despite my struggles with the content, I have great respect for the entire cast and crew in tackling such a difficult and contentious text. During the Q&A, Condes said that the fact that the play scared him was his impetus for directing it, which I wholly commend. Challenges are what make us better theatre-makers, after all. Carley Stenson (Bobbi) mentioned that during the rehearsal process, all four of the women felt a little like “schoolgirls in the changing room” bitching about the boy who let them down, and there’s a lot of heart in that. It is impossible to watch this play and not imagine yourself in their situation, to wonder what you would say to your ex, if you could, decades after a horrific breakup. All four of these women show a lot of strength and depth in their portrayal of the characters. This comes through not in the text, which doesn’t give them a whole lot to go on, but in the minute physical details of their performances. When I asked Elly Condron which actor she would like to see take on her role, she responded: “Isn’t the answer always Meryl Streep?!” But, and forgive me this, I highly doubt Meryl Streep would have been able to out-do Condron in her portrayal of Sam. I saw so much of myself in her and that heightened my frustration with knowing next to nothing about her life – a testament to Condron’s exceptional performance.
A note on accents: During the post-show Q&A, one American audience member commented on the similarity between all of the accents despite the fact that the four women were from different cities. To this, I would say that while she did have a point, the women could have moved around a lot to different states and acquired an amalgamation of several accents, resulting in a chameleonic ‘generic’ American accent. It is also, as Dorfman pointed out, exceptionally difficult to maintain a regional accent when those around you are continually changing theirs. As someone who had to train myself out of my own American accent, I have an exceptional ear for actors who attempt them. In general, I felt that the actors here succeeded in achieving relatively convincing accents with the assistance of dialect coach Richard Ryder. That said, something that infuriates me to no end (and which many British people do when adopting an American accent) is when extra R sounds are tacked on to words that end in a vowel. In Some Girl(s), the continual pronunciation of the word ‘idea’ (which appears frequently) as ‘ide-er’ was akin to nails on a chalkboard. However, this is a personal pet peeve, and one that I am sure most British audiences would never have noticed. Despite my nitpicking, I was impressed at their ability to maintain these accents, especially considering that the five actors had completely different accents themselves – accents that I doubt any American actor would be able to master.
Condes described Some Girl(s) as a ‘cautionary tale’, and this could not be more accurate. In dredging up his past, Guy drags each of these women back into a mess that they had all begun to finally put behind them. Not one of them is prepared to hear his oafish, inarticulate excuses. He is not seeking absolution; he is seeking to make himself feel better about his past, and ensure that he hasn’t missed something better than the life he is about to commit to. Narcissistically, he seems to have no true comprehension of exactly what he has done, and the effect he has had on the lives of others. What he discovers is that his attempts to air his dirty laundry, to make things right, are far too little, and far too late.
Some Girl(s) by Neil LaBute
Directed by Gary Condes
Designed by P.J. McEvoy
Buckland Theatre Company in collaboration with Park Theatre
Park Theatre until 6th August 2016
Tickets Available: www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/some-girls
Cover photo shows Roxanne Pallett as Tyler and Charlie Dorfman as Guy
[All photos by Claire Bilyard]
[Thank you to http://www.TheatreBloggers.co.uk for this opportunity!]