The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a gutsy, provocative and intense revelation of one young 70s girl’s sexual awakening. Adapted by Marielle Heller from a graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, the play takes us to 1976 San Francisco to share in the coming-of-age of 15-year-old Minnie Goetze via the reading and re-enactment of the diary she’s recorded on cassette and her artistic expression of her encounters through drawings. Rebellious Minnie finds herself plunging into the adult world and quickly out of depth, losing her virginity and starting an affair with her mother’s boyfriend, discovering the world of drugs embraced by a counter culture seeing the end of hippiedom and the beginning of punk rock, and feeling out of sync with her peers.
Alexander Parker and Amy Ewbank direct to stunning effect, making the most of their superbly chosen – and costumed – cast and the sparse but effective staging and props. A slanted bed forms the focal point of static staging yet functions perfectly to symbolise the bedroom antics that the play revolves around. And the static space never, in fact, seems to stand still, with the cast dynamically pacing in and out and around the stage – at times interacting, at times Minnie in the thoughts of her diary – while the rest of the action rolls on. Projections on the back window and wall present incredible visuals conjuring the scrawls of Minnie’s diary and her expressive doodles that draw on the graphic novel the play is based on.
Rona Morison is mind blowing as Minnie; though perhaps disturbingly genuinely underage-looking she carries off the emotional extremity, challenging sexual scenes and dark humour that imbue the piece with absolute tenacity. Crucially she draws the audience into her headspace where they will alternately be shocked, sympathetic or their judgement challenged by her reckless thoughts and behaviour. Rebecca Trehearn looks every bit the 70s mother, Charlotte, and achieves an interesting dynamic with Morison, at once the loving adult carer as well as a strange competitor of her daughter, who is fast becoming a threat as a young woman. Jamie Wilkes walks the fine line of rugged charm and believable attraction to Minnie as her lover Monroe but shows an ultimately detestable moral ineptitude as a man exploiting the sexual naivety and vulnerability of an underage girl – and sleeping with both mother and daughter, often under the same roof. Mark Carroll is brilliant as the intellectually snobby roll-neck-wearing yet morally flawed step-father, Pascal (Minnie’s seemingly only safe role model) who sends the protagonist academic papers about flies and offers fatherly advice – but also ends up sleeping with her best friend, sassy Kimmie, excellently portrayed by Saskia Strallen.
This is a strikingly raw and honest delving into the awkward moment in a woman’s life where the push and pull of innocence and adulthood are fought out internally and externally; it is also a damning display of the appetite and predatory nature of masculine sexuality. It may reach some extremities but this play feels like an important airing of female adolescence rarely put so bravely – and humorously – on stage.
By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 23rd March 2017.
The Diary of Teenage Girl is at Southwark Playhouse from 1st until 25th March 2017, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for The Diary of Teenage Girl here: