Eighty minutes, no interval. On stage are two women; the eponymous schoolgirl and a cynical, world-weary bartender. Laura Woodward and Bryony Davies have almost nothing to fall back on – the barest of sets, a sparse sound design and, for half of the play, literally no lighting. Even the fire exit signs have been turned off to create a bold, ambitious vision of a dystopian future.
In this imagined future – eerily believable, it has to be said – ordinary life is interrupted on an unpredictable basis by total blackouts. The world is violent and uncertain, and there are almost no customers in Bell’s bar. Just one schoolgirl, Steph, who is searching desperately for a friend who was lost in the blackouts.
Lulu Raczka’s script is smart and haunting and direction by Ali Pidsley is very clever. The first section of the play, in which the chaotic world outside is created in disorienting flashes of light and sound, pays dividends as we come to the main event of the play; one night in which Bell and Steph must work together to investigate the disappearance. The night – and the atmosphere in the auditorium – intensifies as another blackout plunges audience and characters alike into darkness.
It is ambitious. But it is effective, and credit for that must go in no small part to Woodward and Davies – with so few props or technical elements, it is their storytelling ability that draws us into this nightmarish world. It’s an interesting choice to cast Woodward – an actress clearly in her twenties – as a fifteen year old school girl, and not one that always works. However, in many places they are wonderful to watch, with a believable and compelling dynamic, and their journey towards friendship genuinely sweet.
All in all, A Girl in a School Uniform is a piece of very exciting new writing, and although it could probably still do with a few judicious cuts it is very much worth seeing. Haunted by the spectre of male violence against women it could hardly be more timely, and the vivid world the company has created is likely to stay with you.