A First World Problem at Theatre503
If the Bechdel test can be applied to theatre, then A First World Problem is a first-class example of how to ace it. The subject of the boarding schoolgirl experience has been brought up to date and the state of feminism in this part of the education system is being re-addressed. Candid and funny, with what will be for some alarmingly explicit content, Milly Thomas has captured the juxtaposition of Oxbridge applications and the dorm politics, bullying, drugs and sex that pervades her characters’ lives. Like a revved up St Trinian’s with iPhones and internet access – albeit with parental site restrictions – Thomas tackles a range of very real problems and paradoxes faced by the young, white and privately-educated female.
Eating disorders, bravado, academic pressure and being miserable are matters spotlighted through Hebe (Milly Thomas), Lydia (Kate Craggs) and Amelia (Molly Vevers). The conviction and accuracy of Vevers’ performance as teacher Steve is sincere, intelligent and very believable; with the subtlest of shifts in posture and a flawless Scottish accent, Vever’s skill is both effective and impressive. Playing both posh-boy Hugo, without gimmick or exaggeration that is not firmly warranted by the stereotype, and uptight Ms Broad, Kate Craggs demonstrated control and remarkable ability to hold character. The protagonist Hebe is a melting pot of teenage hormones, calculated cruelty with the vulnerability of a girl on the cusp of womanhood. Thomas holds down an awful lot of dialogue and gives enthralling energy throughout, she brings a new perspective to the word “bitch” – a multi-faceted and strikingly complex performance.
Director and dramaturge Holly Race Roughan and the production team have taken a bravely written piece and fearlessly brought it to life. Frankie Bradshaw’s set is complementary and versatile, allowing for exciting use of the space. Movement sequences directed by Katie Paynes punctuate the dialogue and body language imaginatively replaces words.
Crude and spiky, this is an intelligent and in all probability quite an accurate depiction of the rarified reality of the privileged girl. Carrying important messages about the expectations on young women at large, their behaviour as individuals, as students and as lovers, this play should be seen by teenagers and adults alike.
A First World Problem is at Theatre503 until 12th July 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for A First World Problem here: