Playfight at Finborough Theatre Online
Up-and-coming playwright Julia Grogan won the Experienced Theatre Practitioners Early Playwrighting award for Playfight. The UK theatre scene is thriving with vibrant voices, and it’s evident Grogan not only has something to say, but she is able to articulate it in an entirely fresh and distinctive way. Adapted for Zoom, Playfight follows three girlfriends as they navigate their way from their turbulent teenage years into an equally testing adulthood. The play is episodic in format, seemingly dropping in on the girls as they exchange secrets, share stories, and discuss everything from exams and parents to sex and relationships.
For the most part the story and subject matter are nothing new, although they are explored in an almost unfiltered, occasionally uncomfortable, real and raw way that allows the production to ooze enthralling authenticity. Tough themes are tackled but Grogan understands how to use humour to both alleviate the tone and emphasise her points.
There are a number of areas that might have been worthy of further examination, such as Keira’s father’s alcoholism, but the play has a fluidity that allows it to touch on a multitude of issues impacting teenage girls and young women. The most interesting element is its commentary on the increasing violence in pornography and the “rough sex defence” – an issue seldom seen on stage, here successfully raising the very real concern of hyper-sexualisation and exploitation of young people in a way no other play has. But Grogan’s characters are never simply cyphers for her thoughts and opinions; instead, these are three-dimensional, fully developed and flawed women with their own voices, and it’s engaging to see the author almost arguing with herself as she permits each character to express herself.
A confident script is elevated by three striking performances. Robyn Cara, as the seemingly strait-laced, school-focused Zainab, is incredibly believable. Hannah Millward’s Lucy complements Cara’s character well, their interactions infused with an array of emotive undertones. Helen Monks captivates as Keira, who divulges exaggerated sexual encounters but deep down yearns to be loved. Monks succeeds in balancing the brash and brazen confidence of youth with the childlike vulnerability we all endeavour to mask.
Zoom has proven to be a valid tool for theatre-makers over the past year, and its design allows for an incredibly intimate viewing experience. Equally, though, it has confines and limitations, and these are drawn to the forefront here. With such stellar performances and sharp, weighty writing, the audience simply yearns for what’s on screen to be expanded, and it’s fair to say the play loses a great deal in being so static.
Although absent of any real visual action and falling flat in places, it’s important to remember that Playfight is in fact a rehearsed reading. Based on the performances alone, viewers can’t help but wonder just how invigorating and provocative the play would be when performed live. With light now on the horizon and theatres soon set to open, hopefully the wait won’t be too long.
Playfight is at Finborough Theatre from 1st April until 8th April 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.