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A Girl in School Uniform (Walks Into a Bar) review at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds – ‘intelligent and ultra-live’

Emma D'Arcy and Bryony Davies in A Girl in School Uniform (Walks Into a Bar) at West Yorkshire Emma D'Arcy and Bryony Davies in A Girl in School Uniform (Walks Into a Bar) at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
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If you’ve ever watched a play being rehearsed you’ll know that the rehearsal can feel more live, more compelling, even somehow more “real” than the finished production. Ali Pidsley’s production of Lulu Raczka’s A Girl in School Uniform (Walks Into a Bar) cleverly trades on this paradox.

In theory, the piece opens in the bar of the play’s title. We’re perhaps in the near future, or maybe in some war-torn present day. Steph (Bryony Davies – deadpan, funny, northern), a young woman in school uniform, is looking for her friend, Charlie/Charlotte, who’s gone missing. We’re told there are blackouts. We’re told that a lot of people go missing. But are Steph and Bell (Emma D’Arcy – harried, frenetic, cockney) even in the titular bar at all?

Raczka’s play is no simple A-Z naturalistic story. What starts out like Caryl Churchill parodying a Pinter shaggy dog story swiftly turns into something altogether more slippery and illusive. The text sits neatly in the canon of modern British (post-)drama that also includes Martin Crimp’s In the Republic of Happiness, Alistair MacDowall’s Pomona, and Nina Segal’s recent Big Guns.

The production keeps alive the infectious energy of Pidsley and Raczka’s break-out company Barrel Organ – underscored by a brilliant sonic landscape from Kieran Lucas – while also hinting at new directions which their future work might take.

There’s a spectre haunting the piece, the spectre of male violence. Raczka barely touches on what has happened to the missing friend. She doesn’t need to. We all get it. This is the textual equivalent of European visual theatre: dense, rich, allusive, and totally contemporary.

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Intelligent ultra-live production of chilling, funny, contemporary new play