views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Etcetera Theatre
20th August 2016


Publicity photograph for Runts

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

I'm a firm believer that when it comes to mental cruelty, you won't find any better equipped at torture than teenage girls. They instinctively have a gift for knowing which button to press to inflict maximum pain and don't have the maturity yet to realise just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Izzy Tennyson's play Runts is set in an all-female school somewhere in England and is a fascinating character study of how a complex young female ecosystem really hangs together. If it doesn't seem credible, then you've probably never been a teenage girl.

Tennyson's play includes all the usual suspects. There's a classic triangle of two girls who are friends with a queen bee, but not each other. Watching Lola (Georgia Rosie Simpson) and Harriet (Bronte Sandwell) compete for attention from Brooke (Marisa Gabriele Abela) is both tragic and familiar, no matter which one of those three girls you were. There's joined-at-the-hip creepy twosome Erin (Chandra Flaherty) and Nicola (Miriam Petche). Not to mention a new girl, a handful of bullies and a couple of class-designated "weirdos" who are the targets for everyone, lest anyone else also become a target. A lot of work has gone into fleshing out the different characters - whilst we don't spend a huge deal of time with Erin and Nicola, we instantly understand their whole relationship just from Petche's expression. Erin is hers and anyone who threatens that alliance is an enemy.

Scenes involving SEN-pupil Egg (Maisie Meadows), self-confessed pansexual Kitty (Rosie Taylor-Ritson) and ex-posh new girl Alexa (Amy Lubach) are oppressive and unsettling with director Juliet Knight making us feel like we're back at school again and completely powerless. Tennyson doesn't shy away from writing about the ugliest of teen girl dynamics, however as well crafted as these scenes are, the play as a whole doesn't seem to have a clear point. Although Runts is a slice of everyday life within the school, there's no message or conclusion, other than to capture just how miserable growing up can be. The ending is suitably shocking, yet doesn't seem to be a conclusion in itself; it's too abrupt. Curiously, this play began life as a monologue and yet it feels part of a longer, full-length play rather than a self-contained piece of theatre.

The allegations made by bully Stacy (Grace Walker) linger in the air and I'd like to see her confront T7 form teacher Miss Potts (Evelyn Hooton), perhaps revealing they aren't true and threatening her. The speed at which teachers are leaving the profession is widely documented and more could be done with the character to give this play a strong purpose. Sidekicks Yasmin (Isabel Gladstone) and Naomi (Georgia Sansom) are interesting, however it does feel like Tennyson has perhaps borrowed rather heavily from Catherine Tate here - there is one chunk of the play where I find myself waiting for Yasmin to ask Miss Potts "Am I bovvered?"

Runts features some very strong performances, excellent characterisation and difficult scenes. You'll leave either thankful that your schooldays are long behind you, or thankful that your experience was a very different one.

Runts opened on 20th August and runs until 21st August 2016 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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