Review: Girl You Want (BATS Theatre)
Updated: Jun 2, 2022
"Girl You Want", by Tess Mitchell, is intended to be an embodiment of her youth. Semi-autobiographical and not following any strict narrative, Mitchell's teenage rebellion in 1980's Auckland has to be as enthusiastic and heartfelt as her performance in it. The title is taken from the Devo song "Girl U Want", and similarly the whole show has a thumping soundtrack from that era, featuring songs from The Marching Girls, Blondie and many more.
The soundtrack has obviously been meticulously selected and it does ground the show in its setting, and the sound design (by Ben Holmes) is probably the strongest element of the design. There are a number of scenes in which Mitchell dances as though in a club, and though these feel clunky and a little boring, the lighting design is good, but is absent in creating atmosphere during other scenes, such as the story telling ones. In these, Mitchell gives monologues while photographs of her, her family and where they grew up and spent their lives are projected onto the wall behind her.
Though the authenticity of the photos was a nice touch, it lead to the show feeling a bit like a presentation or a speech, an impression not helped by Mitchell's performance. She switches between multiple characters, in particular her teenage self and occasionally friends and members of her family, and is certainly strongest when playing her adult self. The difficulty is that there is not enough distinction between her adult self and her teenage self, and her other characters such as her mother and a rather dodgy neighbour called Jimmy Beans are badly underdeveloped (the former being especially bland, as almost every sentence references marijuana despite it bearing little relevance to the situation).
There is also an over reliance on discussing family, with key points in her youth feeling rushed. They may be more difficult subject matter, but if they are to be included they need to be expanded upon. The "crisis that could change the course of her life" as promised in the description (though there is no real suspense until it is kind of sprung upon the audience) comes in the final scene, and it condensed into some writing projected onto the wall.
"Girl You Want" feels like a show that does not know what it wants to be about, and so tries to put the focus on atmosphere and setting, one in which the audience can empathise with Tessa and the lifestyle she had. Unfortunately the elements that contribute to creating a great atmosphere were underused and rushed, creating a show that was entertaining enough, even if it was slightly forgettable. The stories and characters themselves were enjoyable, but the presentation lacked the intimacy needed to make them absorbing. Three stars.
Whispers from the crowd:
"It was great, she was great! It made me feel so many emotions."