In the locker room of a US high school, one girl demands another punches her in the stomach. Harder. Again. They’re both members of the swim team, one of them is pregnant, and she really doesn’t want to be. They talk about school, boys and fast food as they plug away at this amateur abortion. One of them is anorexic, or very close to, and the other has built a wall around her own intellect and ambitions with a reputation as an air-head ‘slut’. They are falling together, maybe falling in love, as they negotiate trials and pressures they barely talk about, but which hang with an oppressive weight over their young lives.
Author Ruby Rae Spiegel is only 22, but Dry Land would be an impressive achievement at any age. Its language is fresh and funny, its characters vivid and sharp-talking. Comparisons with Annie Baker are probably unhelpful, but they’re also inevitable. Spiegel’s voice is very much her own, but her capability with everyday silences and the poetry of the banal is irresistibly Baker-esque.
Director Hannah Hauer-King has matched Spiegel’s great ear for the rhythms and flavours of contemporary speech with a superb production, with sparky and moving central performances from Milly Thomas and Aisha Fabienne Ross.
Damsel Productions has stated that it aims to tackle the gender imbalance in theatre head-on, with female teams producing great female stories. Dry Land is certainly a fine testament to that, all too rare in its honesty and its specificity about the bodies, lives and dreams of young women.