Brighton Fringe 2018
White Girls parodies both the world of Fringe theatre and the voluntourism industry, and in doing so holds up a mirror to the Fringe audience in a way that very few shows are able. Strong performances from skilled storytellers keep the audience engaged from start to finish, and although the script feels slightly underdeveloped, this is a triumphant piece of Fringe theatre.
White Girls is the story of two girls – Eve and Leah – telling a story about a story. Using minimal props and a number of costume changes, they explain how, as drama graduates, they want to use their storytelling skills to tell the story of how two days in the Calais Jungle turned into ten months. After all, they’re white girls and they want to feel like they’re making a difference.
Francesca Bloor (Leah) and Valerie Smith (Eve) are skilled storytellers. Starting in a highly theatrical fashion, they open with an archetypal millennial conversation that appears to be designed to irritate anyone over the age of 30. This sets the tone for the relationship between the two characters who are about to tell us their story, and it is credit to their performances that it’s only as the show goes on that it becomes obvious that this is a well-designed theatrical device, and that the annoying unprepared recent drama graduates are actually caricatures (or are they?). Even in the pitch black, sweltering heat of the Theatre Box at The Warren, I could sense that some audience members took a long time to get their heads around the concept – mainly because I was often the only person laughing.
Bloor and Smith play a range of characters that they meet at the Jungle. Introducing us to Max, the hot but annoying Aussie traveller, we get a sense of someone overly-keen to show how caring they are, before a long-term volunteer tears into the “type of people that come just so they can take a photo with a refugee child and post it on their Instagram”. They circumvent the limited available space by occasionally venturing down the gangway by the side of the audience, and though this doesn’t add anything to the story, it is a nice way of moving the action to keep the audience engaged.
The script, although occasionally disjointed, is very well written and balances naturalism with theatrical very well. There are jokes about the girls’ geographical naivety, a reference to being angry with Banksy for “painting a bridge and then disappearing”, and the tonal dynamic moves well between light and dark. There is a clever twist at the end that means the dialogue is more intelligent than it may first appear, although I won’t say any more for fear of a spoiler. The combination of parodying both voluntourism and Fringe theatre is something that may grate on many Fringe audiences, but for me writer Madeleine Accalia should be praised for this bold, unapologetic piece of writing.
The staging was basic – two microphones on stands, simple lighting changes focussing entirely on the two cast members, and all costume changes took place on stage. Music and sound effects were mainly effective in changing the energy between scenes, although they felt like something of an afterthought and could have been used to heighten the emotion of each scene more than they were.
Even in the roasting tin that is the Theatre Box at The Warren, the two performers held the attention of the audience throughout. Clocking in at around 40 minutes felt right for the story, although I left feeling that subject was not explored as deeply as it may have been if they show had run for an hour. The cast should be commended for keeping their energy up in a hot, airless, black box. White Girls may benefit from a larger playing area – the limited space felt like it was preventing the performers from showing their absolute best, as the two bundles of energy on stage were restricted in how far they could bounce.
Overall, the show had a very raw feel to it, and certain elements felt like they could be tightened- lighting changes and sound levels for example, as well as a couple of occasions when the cast were clearly searching for the next line.
That said, this show turned a mirror on the audience in a way that I haven’t seen a Fringe show do for a very long time. Although still young themselves, Bloor and Smith showed a great maturity in their interpretation of characters that must surely feel very close to them. This was a very enjoyable 40 minutes of Fringe theatre, and with a little more time in development, could be even better.