Play looking at media pressures on women debuts at New Theatre Royal

It was the way that young women are targeted and portrayed by the media that proved the catalyst for this new play by writer Zella Compton.

Monday, 23rd May 2016, 10:05 am
Updated Monday, 23rd May 2016, 11:06 am
The cast of How To Be a Girl! during rehearsal

The News columnist and former magazine editor says it’s a reaction to these damaging messages that spurred her into writing the piece that makes its debut in The Minghella next week.

‘It’s something that’s been bothering me for a long time, this media pressure on young ladies and women in particular.

‘It’s been bubbling away in the back of my mind and I’ve been getting crosser and crosser with the images and the expectations put on them, in particular since my daughters are now getting to those teenage years.

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‘It’s like: “Oh my God, what is it we’re doing to our young women in the media and why are we expecting them to look, behave and dress in a certain way?

‘Then I started noticing that No More Page 3 campaign and a Facebook page called Sexist News, and I started reading those.

‘Even this week there was a story about the woman who was sent home from work for not wearing high heels, so you kind of think we had this feminist movement in the ’60s and ’70s and you have lots of people who say we don’t need feminism any more.

‘But then you pick away at the surface and women are being sent home from work for something like that – or the percentage of words that Disney princesses have in the films that are supposed to be about the female characters and it’s actually less than their male counterparts.’

With a cast of 10 talented young actresses, this darkly comic play aims to make its audience think as well as entertain.

‘I was looking at society and the media around us and I started thinking how could I use that in a play, and it took me a long time to work out how to do that without it being an in-your-face feminist rant.

‘Then I was asked to do a piece for an all-girl ensemble, so I thought ‘‘I’ve got to tackle this head-on’’.

‘It’s a cast of 10 young ladies and it’s set in a florist shop, it’s about a girl called Lily and what happens to her.

‘It’s basically a story about the relentless pressure of the media on young women. Everything that’s shown in the play could be in a magazine, which is where the title comes from.’

And for this show Zella has been reunited with Helen Jones, who directed her D-Day play, Five Beaches.

‘I have been into quite a few of the rehearsals and what I’ve seen is fantastic. Helen Jones is a dancer at heart, so all of her direction comes from movement first, which means there’s such a dynamic pace to everything she does.

‘Five Beaches ended up going to 14 different venues because people kept on seeing it and asking if we could put it on.

‘The way she sees thing through movement first and then puts the script on top is, I think, beautiful.’

The show was originally scheduled to go on in The Minghella space, but due to demand has been moved into the main theatre. The performance includes a post-show talk and Q&A.

New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth

Wednesday, May 25