Review: The Diary of a Teenage Girl at Southwark Playhouse

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It seems Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel has seen a resurgence of interest in the past few years, with a film adaptation starring Bel Powley, Kristen Wiig and Alexander Skarsgard in 2015. The film’s director and writer Marielle Heller subsequently adapted the work for stage as well, and we see it presented here in Southwark Playhouse’s production.

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The Diary Of A Teenage Girl is a coming of age story about 15 year old Minnie (Rona Morison) and her sexual awakening, embarking on a sexual relationship with her single mother’s (Rebecca Trehearn) pornstachioed boyfriend Monroe (Jamie Wilkes) while navigating her own growing up and feelings as she records everything in her verbal diary.

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Directors Andrew Parker and Amy Ewbank have done a pretty good job of adapting the piece for the stage, with the entire play set more or less in Minnie’s slanted bedroom (designed by Andrew Riley, also the costume designer) and evokes a strong 70s aesthetic. The bedroom consists a single large bed, with a video wall behind it displaying animation based off Gloeckner’s original drawings and as wallpaper that warps and changes the play’s mood accordingly (courtesy of Nina Dunn). Fittingly, the somewhat surreal and malleable look of the place brings to mind the flower power era, brought to the fore when characters go on drug trips during the play or simply lull themselves into a happiness ridden stupor. Riley’s costumes and props, from Minnie’s bell bottom jeans to old timey telephones, also help transport the audience to a more innocent time.

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Rona Morison’s portrayal of Minnie brings out the character’s teenage complexities in all their confusing states. At times rip roaringly free, completely at ease with herself, while at others displaying her vulnerabilities, her fears and teenage angst, whether it’s directed at boring stepfather Pascal (Mark Carroll) or her best friend Kimmie (Saskia Strallen). There’s an uneasiness about her performance that nicely straddles the boundary between being a child and being on the cusp of adulthood, a pride in her presumed knowledge and maturity and a petulance at not getting her way. Rebecca Trehearn plays her tired mother, and oddly enough, bears more similarities to Minnie than one would think, except where Minnie is a child attempting to grow into adulthood,  her mother is an adult attempting to hold on to the last vestiges of her childhood, allowing her id to run free with alcohol and drugs. At the same time, Trehearn brings a gravity to the character when she needs to step up, assuming responsibility and appearing much bigger than she physically is when she finally fulfils her maternal role. Finally, Jamie Wilkes, although perhaps not quite the sex god his film counterpart Alexander Skarsgard is, brings out a more realistic Monroe. Armed with a full chest of hair, a pornstache, but the kind of sex appeal one finds in vintage magazines, a free spirit mixed with a roguish desire a teen might be attracted to.

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Southwark Playhouse’s Diary of A Teenage Girl does a remarkable job of bringing out the heyday and freedom of growing up in 70s California, but suffuses it with an element of darkness as well, the story reaching a climactic, tense point for Minnie when she begins to completely lose control of her actions. The Diary Of A Teenage Girl accurately draws out the myriad storm of emotions that comes with maturity in its quirky dysfunctional family, and leaves audiences with a powerful message that growing up may not be easy with its cast of characters who are neither children nor quite adults, but to always enjoy the bumpy, crazy ride it is and live out your days of self discovery as best as you can before finally settling.

The Diary of A Teenage Girl plays till 25 March at Southwark Playhouse. Tickets available here

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