Wednesday, 29 May 2013

On the Bodily Education of Young Girls, May 31, 2013 *1/2

Adaptation inspired by Frank Wedekind’s 1903 novella
Fraught Outfit, MTC NEON 
Lawler Studio, MTC, Southbank, May 30 to June 9, 2013 (opening night May 31)
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on May 31, 2013
Stars: *1/2

Review also published in Herald Sun on line on Tue June 4 and possibly later in print. KH 

During On the Bodily Education of Young Girls, nine teenage girls, in almost total silence, engage in a series of ballet warm-up exercises and then enact a schoolgirl pantomime depicting a plethora of stylised executions while their teachers watch.
Fantine Banulski pic by Pia Johnson

This may be the only occasion in which you will witness a group of 13-15 year-old girls not chatting, giggling or shrieking for a continuous hour.

Because it is devised by independent theatre company, Fraught Outfit, and is part of the MTC NEON Festival, this production cannot be assessed as youth theatre – despite many of its cast being teens – so it must meet certain professional standards.

Director, Adena Jacobs describes her production, which is inspired by Frank Wedekind’s 1903 novella, On The Bodily Education of Young Girls, as “a theatrical poem through a contemporary lens” and “an elegy for childhood”, amongst other descriptions.

Wedekind’s novel portrays an 84 year-old woman’s recollections of her years in an insular, girls’ school being trained in ballet and biology and performing at night for adults.

While Jacobs’ adaptation chooses not to interpret Wedekind’s story directly, it fails to illuminate anything about adolescent girls, their burgeoning physicality and awareness, or the juxtaposition of adult and child.

Unfortunately, it is an incoherent, incohesive and contrived collection of workshop ideas that are not sufficiently developed to make clear its theatrical intentions or make a meaningful performance.

The stage does not succeed in being dangerous, threatening, sensual, decorative, risky, artistic or magical.

The first 20-30 minutes features an interminable ballet warm-up session, myriad meaningless exits and entrances, mannered and meaningful gazes between the girls, and tepid, uninflected observation by two schoolmistresses (Luisa Hastings Edge, Karen Sibbing) and an elderly woman (Anna Schlusser).

The young actors work diligently, but the direction makes them look awkward and self-conscious, and their movements and pathways around the stage are so contrived and overly choreographed that they are stilted.

The violence portrayed in their pantomime is like a bad primary school play, with mediaeval characters slaughtering each other with plastic swords and it provides no sense of teenagers attempting to depict adult themes.

The only moments of energy and girlishness occur when they play a tag game and shriek like playful teenagers.

Those who work with teenage girls in devising performance will know that they love anything obtuse, esoteric and cryptic, probably because it feels philosophical and adult, even when they don’t have a clue what it all means.

This is not stylisation; it is just kids doing bad acting – very, very slowly, and it’s not their fault.

By Kate Herbert

Director Adena Jacobs
Dramaturgy Aaron Orzech
Set Design Dayna Morrissey

Composer Kelly Ryall; Lighting
Design Danny Pettingill

Costume Design Chloe Greaves
Associate Artist Pia Johnson


Mika Andrew, Fantine Banulski, Bianca Coppa, Tove Due, Luisa Hastings Edge, Cindy Hu, Annie McKenna-Freeman, Lois Scott, Karen Sibbing, Carla Tilley, Artemis Wilson

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