Directed by Elayce Ismail, Theresa Ikoko’s new play Girls makes its London debut at Soho Theatre. This story of endurance and friendship follows three girls as they struggle to survive after being kidnapped. By mixing humour with the pain and conflict of desperation, Ikoko has created a striking play that is gripping from beginning to end.
Haleema (Anita-Joy Uwajeh), Tisana (Abiola Ogunbiyi) and Ruhab (Yvette Boakye) are taken from their families one day by a group of men who invade their village. Haleema is frustrated, yet remains strong, while Tisana, the youngest of the three, copes by constantly playing make-believe. Ruhab on the other hand becomes fond of one of the captors. As time goes on, life becomes increasingly dangerous for them, so Haleema comes up with a plan to escape. But will the other girls also risk their lives for freedom?
Ikoko’s writing is powerful and the subjects explored resonate with you well after the end of the play. The poetic language and pop culture references are weaved into the text effortlessly, making the characters endearing and easily relatable, even if the situation they are in is alien. There is never a dull moment as the performers’ energy elevates into an inevitable tragedy. Uwajeh is fantastic as Haleema, perfectly capturing the character’s quick wit and strength. She is very entertaining and instantly likeable. Equally, Ogunbiyi and Boakye give great performances as Tisana and Ruhab respectively, and the chemistry between the three performers is insanely charming. They genuinely feel like the best of friends. The emotion echoed by Ikoko’s writing is brought to life with a hint of comedy, adding light to the dark subject.
The text is particularly powerful with its sentiment. We are never aware of the setting of the play, just that it is in Africa, but the resemblance of this story to the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram is no accident. Girls uses the fictional characters to give these children names and faces, highlighting their struggles, and forcing us to acknowledge who they are: just girls who like to talk about boys, sex, hair and Beyoncé. The emotional ending is unfortunately too realistic which is the most upsetting part of this piece, and the subtlety of Ikoko’s writing makes it all the more heart-breaking. With her masterful writing, you’re guaranteed laughs as well as some though-provoking themes that will stay with you once you have left the auditorium.
Girls is at Soho Theatre until 29th October.