Some opening lines from Rebecca Prichard’s “Yard Gal” let us know immediately where we stand. “This is a story about me and Marie and the posse that we used to move,” Boo tells us in this very presentational two-character drama. “It’s about chatting shit, getting fucked, getting high and doing our crimes innit.”
Have we stumbled into the local cineplex? For all its up-to-the-nanosecond slang and in-the-moment street rhythms, this British import about life in the Hackney area of East London suffers against such celluloid competition as Allison Anders’ “Mi Vida Loca” or Jim McKay’s “Girls Town,” both of which date from over four years ago. Theater misses the youth boat once again.
The arc of Prichard’s play, which premiered at London’s Royal Court Theater Upstairs in 1998, is so familiar from movies it has now achieved cliche status. Two teenagers, Boo (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) and Marie (Amelia Lowdell), run with a posse of four other girls: Threse, Nadine, Sabrina and Deanne. They keep a squat in Hackney, which comes in handy before the raves kick in and after the drugs have worn off. Their stories of doing some lines and having a dirty rub amuse until, as in any post-Tarantino work, they turn bad about halfway through.
The police descend on a local club and someone gets a nose ring ripped off her face. Boo and Marie spend the night in a police cell with their posse: Threse is up for unlawful possession of a weapon; Deanne offs herself and Nadine disappears. The other girls wonder if they should worry but do glue instead. Later Marie nearly dies in a fight, only to end up in the hospital, where she learns she’s pregnant. Various other sordid complications ensue.
Eventually, Marie puts a broken bottle in Wendy’s neck, killing her, and frames Boo for the crime. The posse, it turns out, isn’t so tight after all. Fade out to Boo in jail where, miraculously, Prichard finally provides an old-fashioned scene between her two characters, who now talk face to face through the prison grate for a good two or three minutes. The dramatic impact is not unlike removing one’s head from the side of a wall you’ve been trying to demolish.
Under Gemma Bodinetz’s direction, Duncan-Brewster and Lowdell never let up on the energy, but in the end loud is simply loud. They occasionally take on the voice of the girls in their posse, but these other characters remain a blur. When things do quiet down for Marie’s big betrayal, the dramatic transformation is so abrupt it borders on the sentimental.
Set designer Es Devlin provides a bare stage with six boxes that light up in different colors, each representing a member of the posse and, occasionally, furniture. Farther upstage, lighting designer Frances Aronson appears to be duplicating Mondrian’s very darkest period across a panoramic screen. Those moving streams of geometric patterns take on increasing interest as the evening wears on.