Auckland Town Hall
July 19-26 | Reviewed by Renee Liang

“YOU DON’T find your own happiness,” they say, flashing smiles over confidently tossed shoulders. “You make it.” It is a statement that these eleven young women truly live. The Girls Show is about being young, about being a woman and about being an Aucklander – all things which have received bad press in the past, but which is celebrated in this pastiche of true stories.

The girls – aged sixteen to twenty-one – have worked together for the last nine months, using Massive Theatre Company’s well-trodden devising process. It is the ‘twin’ to Up Close Out Loud, a high-energy show that celebrated the lives of young Auckland men and went on to be toured overseas. Three of the performers from that show, Kitan Petkovski, Scott Cotter and Misiarona Puni, are Assistant Directors for this show, working closely with Directors Sam Scott and Carla Martell and a team of other senior theatre professionals.

The result is a show that offers us tantalising glimpses into the lives of eleven young women, each of them beautiful in her own right. If I had any criticism it would be that the format doesn’t allow us time to get to know them before the show is over. Instead we are given story snippets, soundbites if you will, a few shining threads in what we understand to be a much larger tapestry. A few stories stand out for me: Geneva Alexander-Marster’s account of being confronted by baseball-bat wielding thugs on a bridge and running away to sing herself back to calmness; Tuyet Nguyen’s stories of her mother’s endurance on a refugee boat. For some reason it was the darker stories that drew me, amid so much colour and positivity. I wanted something to anchor me to these women as individuals, and I wanted more of their stories.

The Girl’s Show is not intended to be a narrative or even a play. But as an audience member, it sometimes felt as if I was watching a school of brightly turning fish, none of them staying still long enough to be admired, instead relying on technicolour splashes of energy to dazzle. I enjoyed the slow moments the best, especially the moving affirmation of “Southside” (several of the performers were from the much-maligned South Auckland area) and the movement-poem about parental attitudes to first-born daughters, dating and chores.

The girls have fantastic singing voices, as proven in their opening waiata, and I wondered why they needed a recorded soundtrack at all. A lot of the show seems to be set dance pieces to music, with the focus on energy rather than grace. Some of the dances, notably Lisa Marie Dayne and Genevieve Thomson-Ford’s provocative exploration of female sexuality, are fascinating, but others risk descent into ‘pop’ culture and reminded me of children’s dance group Hi-5 (as did, unfortunately, the clothes). Much as I understand that it’s impossible to have a show representing youth without some of their music, still I wanted to hear their voices and to have the time to follow each biographical thread. That may not be possible in this format. But I hope that at least some of the young women in the show may go on to write their own stories and to explore longer narratives, as either actors or writers.

All in all, it was a pleasure to watch eleven clearly talented and confident young women (oh to still be that optimistic and young!). No doubt many of them will have successful careers, both on and off stage.