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A Girl in School Uniform (Walks Into a Bar) review at New Diorama, London – ‘unnerving and resonant’

Bryony Davies and Laura Woodward in Girl In School Uniform (Walks Into a Bar) at New Diorama, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Bryony Davies and Laura Woodward in Girl In School Uniform (Walks Into a Bar) at New Diorama, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

In an alternate reality, that feels uncomfortably close to ours, women are dying. Every time the lights go out they disappear from the streets, their homes – one even from her shower. When they turn up dead the authorities shrug it off as an unfortunate but accidental by-product of the blackouts.

Plucky school girl Steph (Laura Woodward) suspects something more sinister has befallen her missing friend. In a bar on the bad side of town, she interrogates Bell (Bryony Davies) who seems intent on keeping her in the literal dark.

Woodward’s surreal jolly hockey sticks attire implies innocence while also alluding to the idea of the school uniform in erotic role play. It is a reminder as to how murdered women are often judged by appearance: “When girls like you disappear, it still makes the news” Bell quips, with her pink hair and piercings; the implication is clear – no one would come looking for Bell.

A large proportion of Ali Pidsley’s production – made with playwright and Barrel Organ collaborator Lulu Raczka – takes place in total blackness, the lighting – or lack of it – designed by Peter Small. This sensory deprivation allows the storytelling to engulf the audience. Davies elicits anticipatory dread in a long silent sequence in which she checks the doors are secure with a handheld camping light. And while Raczka’s dialogue is occasionally circular it is underscored with unseen threat.

A Girl in School Uniform (Walks into a Bar) conjures the terror of what it is to be a woman alone in the dark, in a way that feels unnervingly relevant.

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Verdict
Frightening and resonant dystopian drama staged, in part, in the dark
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