A Girl in School Uniform (Walks Into a Bar) review
Time Out says
This futuristic thriller goes bump in the night
In British playwright Lulu Raczka’s 2018 thriller, she asks us to imagine a world in which women go missing without explanation. A world where there’s an epidemic of violence against women, and women aren’t safe to walk the streets at night. A world where the powers that be are doing next to nothing to shift the balance and ensure women’s safety.
We don’t know exactly how far into the future Raczka’s play is set, but it’s fair to say it’s not too far from our own present. And certainly it’s a play that speaks clearly to this moment in time, when violence against women is showing little sign of abating. The only major difference is that in Raczka’s play, the biggest threat is the unknown. In our world, the biggest threat is the men women know intimately.
Steph (Caitlin Burley) is a private schoolgirl looking for answers. One night she stumbles into a ramshackle bar run by Bell (Michelle Ny) on her quest to find out what happened to her best friend, Charlotte. The city where Steph and Bell live is plagued by frequent blackouts, during which people (especially women) go missing under mysterious circumstances. Steph knows that Charlotte came to this bar, but she doesn’t know what drew her there, or why Bell is being cagey. But she soon proves herself to be tougher and more persistent than Bell thought, and the tough-as-nails bartender starts spilling information, piece by piece.
Raczka’s story takes a little while to warm up – and in this production directed by Hannah Goodwin, the dystopian future feels a little fuzzy – but it starts to catch fire once Bell and Steph begin peeling layers off one another. As the blackouts return, Bell and Steph use the darkness to retrace their steps and start to imagine a new future where they gain all the power and uncover the truth.
Burley and Ny find a neat dynamic together, even if Ny doesn’t quite feel as world-wearied as the character demands, and both characters seem quite similar in age and experience. It means the two characters are mostly on a level playing field, when a shifting power dynamic should be at the play’s core.
Raczka’s script also leans too much on thriller tropes and doesn’t elevate them into a particularly interesting exploration of its subject; it has too many unanswered questions, and the relationship between the pair is too imprecise to offer as much insight as it might.
Luckily, Goodwin’s production has the requisite thrills thanks to Jessica Dunn’s superbly unsettling sound design, which guides us through the darkness. And its darkness is literal for the most part; a good half of the play takes place in a complete blackout. That blackout is, at first, a scary place to be in, but soon becomes a space where these two young women can shake off the roles assigned to them and throw themselves forward into a better and more powerful future.