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A Young Girl’s Guide to Madness - A guided tale through funny, relatable and harrowing stories.

Review written by Ellie Cansdale

A Young Girl’s Guide to Madness is an emotional and beautiful journey that holds the audience's hand through the tumultuous reality of being a young girl in the 21st Century.

Charlotte Ellis wrote and stars in this one-woman-show, expertly directed by Grace Wilkinson and produced by Bloomin’ Buds Theatre company. The show blossomed from a series of poems Ellis wrote when she was younger, each exploring an aspect of being a young girl. The show had a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2022 as part of a Working Class Programme of Theatre produced by Bloomin’ Buds Theatre Company.

We enter the room greeted by an original score written for the piece, and an intimate set on stage. A blanketed chair sits at an angle on top of a lilac rug. A fake plant sits at the back and a small trinket table stands beside the chair holding a few props we later see in use. The most powerful of which is the sunset lamp, angled up at the opposite side of the stage set on a purple hue, that remains on throughout the piece.

The lights go down and we are welcomed into this living room/bedroom space by the voice of Jess, who’s life, we are warned “is going to sound like a mess”. The spoken word style to this introductory voice over is a beautiful beginning to the play. It sets the precedent that we will hear more of Jess through the ether around us and that we have entered into her personal space, that what we are about to see and hear is true, heartfelt and honest. This is exactly what we get.

When the spoken word ends we are told we are now in her “own young girls guide to madness”, a fitting reference to the play's name, and we hear another poem, all about the sun, how she likes to hide. After this, the lights change from a pulsing lilac to a bright warm wash, as Jess enters the stage through the back curtains. She declares strongly that she’s met the one, and we can’t help but laugh in response. The audience is immediately captivated by what she has to say and a collective feeling of empathy for this sudden and deep emotion that we all know too well and know won’t last, fills the room. Jess goes on to tell us all about this boy she met at a house party, the scene full of innocence and naivety about love. It ends on a note of anger when social media tells her the truth about his feelings, or should I say lack of, towards her.

A powerful blackout closes the scene and we are greeted once more by Ellis in voiceover, with a new but equally raw poem. The play follows this comforting pattern of poem, scene, poem that acts as a tool to show both the progression of time in the piece as well as emphasising the feelings of Jess in the scene we have just watched.

As the play moves on in time, we learn about key moments of Jess’ life as she grows older and experiences more of the world. Ellis’ writing style fits these stories beautifully, as she tells us through a naive lens all about these moments that too many of us have experienced. From dismissive teachers, to learning how to shave, Ellis doesn’t miss out much about growing up. Every audience member finds something they can relate to, and the humourous undertone used allows us to feel a connection to these stories. I’ve seen this piece a few times before its Fringe run, and each time I found something new I could relate to.

Most of the topics in the play are either happy, or spun in a way we can find humour in, but there are some scenes where Ellis isn’t afraid to be brutally honest and give us the reality check of what it can be like for too many young girls. Grace Wilkinson directs these moments in an excellent contrast to the others. Jess sits on her chair and speaks to her feet for most of the scene where she talks about a time she was harassed by a stranger when walking home from school; she speaks soft and quiet, captivating the audience. She barely moves and when she does it’s a little flicker of the hand or a harrowing look at the audience. The contrast to the funnier scenes where the direction follows a more nervously excited teen emphasises how down the downs can be being a young woman.

Throughout the piece, blackouts are used to change scenes, though the sunset lamp remains on casting a beautiful purple light across the set. Moments of importance are highlighted by spotlights and each scene has a wash colour that reflects its tone.

A Young Girls’ Guide to Madness is a must-see show! Huge congratulations to Charlotte, Grace and the team for their successful run at the fringe. The play is being performed at the Rockwell Centre, Bradford on 22nd September 2022. Everyone should see this play for we can all relate, and as Charlotte says at the end we can all take something from it to make the world a better place.

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