Review - A Girl In School Uniform Walks Into A Bar (New Diorama Theatre)

In a dystopian future plagued by random blackouts, bright eyed schoolgirl Steph walks into the bar owned by sarcastic bartender Bell, searching for her missing friend Charlie. Steph is adamant that Charlie visited the sticky boozer whilst looking for her mother, whilst Bell maintains that she never saw the schoolgirl once. The longer Charlie is missing for, the more desperate Steph becomes until one day Bell's mask of obliviousness begins to slip.

Bryony Davies and Laura Woodward in A Girl In School Uniform (Walks Into A Bar)
Photo credit - Graham Michael
A Girl In School Uniform (Walks Into A Bar) is a gripping 80 minute two hander written and directed by Lulu Raczka and Ali Pidsley respectively. Raczka weaves a tantalising tale of  intrigue, deceit and regret, drip feeding the audience tidbits of information, and throwing in enough red herrings to keep them guessing right up until the last second.

A large portion of A Girl In School Uniform (Walks Into A Bar) happens in complete darkness during a particularly long and tense blackout. When all of the lights go out, any sense of spatial awareness instantly vanishes and suddenly the audience is thrust into the terrifyingly dark dystopia, which feels claustrophobic yet simultaneously abyss-like. For what seems like several minutes, the only sounds which can be heard are the terrified pants and whines of Bell and Steph, and the frenzied scuffling of their feet through the rubble on the ground, as they search for a tiny camplight to save them from the dangers of the darkness. Each second is deliciously tense, and is bound to get pulses racing. As is the story which Bell and Steph start to make up together to take their minds off the terror of their inky surroundings. The two craft a tale based on half truths, which sees them tracking down Charlie's absent mother's shady acquaintances in order to try and find out the truth about what happened to Steph's school friend. The story takes several twists and turns as the duo test the waters, each trying to tease the real truth out of the other as the yarn they spin gets more and more outrageously unbelievable.

Raczka's writing comes into its own as the duo invent their own fantastical story together, meanwhile leads Laura Woodward and Bryony Davies work immensely well together and totally sell their characters' terse blossoming friendship. They keep the story ticking along brilliantly, even when the script does start to get a little repetitive towards the end, and totally sell the blackout induced panic which forces their nervy mismatched characters to open up to one another.

Peter Small's lighting design must also be commended. For a play set mostly in darkness, the little light that is used is immensely effective. Strip lighting hanging from the ceiling flickers and crackles, hinting at the precarious nature of the commodity of electricity, and tiny boxes of light projected onto the ground to light the characters when they first meet acts as an apt physical manifestation of the disconnect between Steph and Bell, and their hostile suspicion of one another.

A Girl In School Uniform (Walks Into A Bar) is an enthralling ride, which paints a bleak and disturbingly plausible picture of a future when even light itself is a luxury in short supply. Snappily directed and performed by a transfixing pair of actors, this riveting play is one which needs to be experienced.