Friday, 10 March 2017

Sexual Awakening, Drugs & Rock 'n' Roll: 'The Diary of a Teenage Girl', Southwark Playhouse


Since the age of thirteen I’ve kept a diary. A bright yellow scrapbook type notepad, filled with doodles, expletives and those name games you use to determine what percentage compatible you are with your crush. Ahhh thems were the days.


Looking back now, it’s pretty shocking stuff to read. And putting my desperation to bury it in a deep pit at the bottom of an endless lake in the land of 'doesn't-exist-ville' aside, the 30 year-old g-ma in me can't quite believe how aware of an adult world I was at such a young age.

You forget really. Maybe that’s why ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’ hits home so hard. The brutal force of Minnie’s brash, no fucks given attitude along with unedited access to her private world are a sucker punch to the face. A good one I mean, but BAM, you’re in her head, straight from the get-go.

We meet Minnie at 15-years old, growing up alongside her mum (Charlotte) and mum’s boyfriend (Monroe), in mid-70's San Francisco. Without spoiling too much, Minnie and Monroe have an 'affair', which is pretty disturbing seeing as they a) live under the since they me roof b) he's more than twice her age, and c) oh that's right, he's ‘porking’ (quote) her mum.

I'd watched the film adaption already, but seeing the play was even more hard-hitting in the intimacy of Southwark Playhouse. Minnie's bed takes centre stage, whilst cartoons, scrawls and illustrations from the original graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner are projected onto the walls and window behind. The scenes are jerky, bold and never, ever dull.

Minnie. Credit: Southwark Playhouse
Minnie & Kimmie (her BFF). Credit: Southwark Playhouse


Monroe. (BOOOO). Credit: Southwark Playhouse
Charlotte (Minnie's mum). Credit: Southwark Playhouse 
However, as playful as the production may at times seem, this is in fact a dark and quite sinister tale of exploitation and the misuse of trust. 

At the beginning, we hear Minnie recall how Monroe was her first ever sexual experience. How she drew an 'x' on him with her blood, then asked for a picture so she could see how she looked after losing her virginity. Later they play-fight, as a child and father-figure might, only he ends it by pinning her down on a bed.

Watching these early experiences play out over 90 minutes, the scariest thing was how real it seemed. How, in the wrong hands, this sensitive, explorative time of sexual awakening could be taken advantage of, so easily. For a self-conscious teen who hasn’t yet developed the confidence to think themselves worthy of love or sex, why wouldn’t they be persuaded by the attention of an older, or authoritative figure? And in Minnie's case, one that she trusted and should have protected her.

She kept repeating how she 'wasn't very attractive' and how she was worried that if she didn't have sex now, whilst the opportunity was there, she might never get another chance. It makes you wonder how many other teens have felt the same, jumping into their first time because of social pressure and low self-esteem.

It may have been a bit of sick fun for Monroe, but for Minnie, those experiences could last for LIFE, and that's probably the case for all victims of sexual abuse. The things you go through when you're younger stick in your head, and your heart, so much stronger and more vividly. They can shape who you are, and you never seem to forget them. It goes to show how one careless action can start a chain reaction that's so much bigger than anything in the present.

Credit: Southwark Playhouse

Credit: Southwark Playhouse
Pascal, the ex step-father. Credit: Southwark Playhouse
In Minnie's case, her run in with Monroe affected all her relationships from there on out. Her experience altered her expectations and attitudes towards other boys (and girls). She professes herself a ‘harlet’, eager to give herself to men she meets, without hesitation or concern. She gets in trouble. She gets ‘messed up’. 

But don’t get me wrong. Our heroine was strong, and that’s what I loved about Diary of a Teenage Girl. Rona Morison (Minnie) was encapsulating. She took the naivety and innocence of childhood, and mushed them into a confused cataclysm of teen sexual awakening and rebellion. 

And it was so refreshing to see an empowering female protagonist taking the lead. I've lost count of the number of male-centric coming-of-age stories I've seen. Minnie loved sex. She spoke about it almost non-stop, and she wasn’t afraid to go after it whenever she wanted. And there was no judgement in the narrative of the play, that’s what was so great about it. 

I’ve never had ‘cock’ shouted in my face so many times. Or seen a dildo used as a microphone. Such is the enchantingly honest world of Minnie Goetze.

You’ll have to go see it to see who comes out on top. Pun fully intended.

Think I’ll go find that lake now.

Me with Rona Morison

The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Marielle Heller is running at the Southwark Playhouse until 25th March 2017. Tickets are £20 (£16 for concessions). Directed by Alexander Parker and Amy Ewbank, it’s based on a graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner and has also been adapted into a film (also VERY good! And currently on Netflix!).


By Holly Earp




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