“School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls” play is currently showing at The Lyric in Hammersmith until the 15th July. At a mere 80 minutes of wonder, it certainly packs a punch and I would urge you to go and see it. A clever comedy with important universal themes of race, beauty and friendship that had an extraordinary effect on the audience, judging by the responses all the way through to the standing ovation at the end.
The play is set in a girls boarding school in Ghana in the 80’s and magnificently cast with a core group of 5 girls and a headmistress. I was invited to see it last night and we listened to Monique Touko, the Director telling us how they only had 4 weeks to put it together and how they made the decision to choose The Lyric Theatre as it’s home. Her direction was brilliant.
The play was written by Joan Bioh and initially premiered on Broadway in 2017 and starts with the introduction of The Queen Bee – Paulina (played by Tara Tisani) who hits hard from the moment she opens her mouth, being mean to Nana (Jadesola Ojunjo) – “are you determined to look like a cow?” and “I’ve decided that you can’t be part of our group anymore until you’ve lost 15-20 lbs (the audience did not like that…) and we feel sorry for her until Paulina leaves and all the girls apologise to Nana for not standing up for her. This is a refreshing West African approach to a Western themed movie franchise and although at times it felt a little predictable, (because it’s not an original premise) and centres around the story is of a Miss World contest, the important questions around colourism, racial identity and internalised racism were relevant and key themes to focus on.
Through comedy we are invited to watch the painful fragility of female friendship, the need to fit in and the desire to be part of a big glorious future – all themes we can all relate to – and so when the pretty, light skinned, new girl, Erica arrives, all hell breaks loose. She’s a bi-racial transfer student from America, with her own identity issues.
There is a spectacular performance of “The Greatest Love Of All,” both funny and poignant – whereby Paulina’s vulnerability is exposed to all and Erica is spellbinding, but each of the characters play their part spectacularly. Ultimately, this is a story is about female solidarity in it’s most raw and basic form and with their perfect comic timing, it presents a sad and misguided journey that offers a much needed solution at the end.
This is a play for all of us – take your kids! Idris Elba is one of their chief supporters apparently.
We met Alison A Addo afterwards, who played the stern but kind and sassy Headmistress brilliantly – her moves have got to be seen:-
The whole cast:-
This scene was funny:-
Kathy Lette enjoyed the play and joined us at the end to meet the cast”-
Large billboard opposite The Old Vic:-