Brighton Fringe 2013
A Girl called Owl is a one woman show portraying a young woman’s coming of age story set in Overberg, South Africa. The story is told simply, using just an armchair for a prop, some basic lighting states and a refreshingly physical performance by Briony Horowitz.
You’ve go to admire an independent, unfunded company for having the commitment and faith to bring a piece of new work to a fringe festival, so far afield off their own bat. A Girl Called Owl has come all the way from South Africa and has had quite a long run this fringe festival at the Nightingale. I’ve been very much looking forward to checking out this show not least because it has travelled so far to get to us.
Our guide through the telling is ten year old Olivia, a mostly well behaved, but sensitive and impressionable child who is befriended one day by her rough and wily next door neighbour Kay. Kay is also ten, but wild and unstable. She has an violent, alcoholic dad and a mother who has left them to fend for themselves. Olivia takes Kay under her arm and they bond as motherless girls; outsiders in a school environment that doesn’t tolerate ‘freaks’ – with much grace.
As the girls move into adolescence and the fringes of adulthood, they are still best friends, but sex adds a level of confusion (and frisson) that threatens a rift that ultimately allows both girls to confront some underlying issues and come to some new discoveries.
The story is familiar, but still fresh and here is a lovely, rich sense of the physical environment conveyed through the writing and the telling. Briony Horowitz’s portrayals are vivid and her edits clean. She has great skill and obviously feels a real affinity with Jon Keevy’s material and I cant think of a more suitable home for this piece in Brighton than the beautiful, intimate Nightingale Theatre.
My only disappointment was with some of the directorial choices. Though physical in style, most of the performance was very literal and the story telling very text dominant. The moments where the body was free to just tell us something significant with no need for words were few and far between and the tiny moments we were fed, I found myself terribly thirsty for and wishing they would linger longer.
A transitional sequence where the actress let her hair down in front of a red light with some raw guitar music in back ground, indicating she was becoming the teenage Olivia, although maybe not super inventive, was very effective. Yet I sensed that these passages were regarded as transitional rather that core by the director, so never given a chance to unfold in their own right – as a text, or language of its own. Over all, very little of the physicality conveyed anything that we didn’t already know, or move the story forward in its own right: a sequence where the actress describes climbing a tree, for example, she is climbing the chair as if it was a tree.
I think a real trap with theatre making is tautology and it is such a common mistake. Something is said at the same time it is also done. Something is demonstrated at the same time as music demonstrates the same thing, etc etc. It shuts down the audiences imagination so they cant live inside the material as it unfolds and means it is happening at us rather than in us. It leaves me craving space to breathe; space to move towards the material; space to be invited in, towards it, so my imagination can participate.
Still, it would be mean spirited of me not to be impressed. It is a good story, well told and with some strong, touching elements.