Review – The Girlfriend Experience, Young Vic

The Girlfriend Experience
The Girlfriend Experience

The Recorded Delivery Writing and Performance Technique consists of recordings being played to actors through headphones during the performance, allowing them to copy “not just the words but exactly the way in which they were first spoken” so that “every cough, stutter and hesitation is reproduced”. The technique is used to good effect in The Girlfriend Experience (distinguished alumna of the Royal Court following a sell-out last year and now playing at the Young Vic).

As an aside, it seem that The Young Vic is the place to be on a Friday night. Spotted in the foyer before the play were not only Benedict Cumberbatch, but Sarah “Green Wing” Alexander and Peter “Darth Maul” Serafinowicz. I almost didn’t stay for the rest of the play after that excitement.

Anyway, glad I did, because the Recorded Delivery Writing and Performance Technique (hereafter, RDWaPT) is actually less gimmicky and more effective than I had imagined. The dialogue feels utterly unlike any other play I’ve seen: characters talk over each other, they gabble their words, they repeat themselves, they say things which don’t garner a response; it glitters with ordinariness; it feels, in short, like a real conversation.

The play follows four prostitutes working in a small flat not far from Bournemouth seafront, and specifically focuses around “The Girlfriend Experience”, whereby punters are offered a more “intimate, loving” service. The real girlfriend experience the play focuses on is a different one, however: that experienced by the women as they attempt to develop relationships outside of their work, and it is here that the play is at its funniest and its most tragic. There is something horribly sad about the terribly low expectations of these women – for Tessa, holding hands on the seafront is rapturous – and the near certainty that even these will be disappointed.

The women presented are likeable and funny, and there’s plenty of very amusing moments, but there’s also something almost unpleasant about the production. Most of the laughs come from what are essentially very unpleasant experiences for the women concerned: disappointment about a boyfriend who’s only interested in going dogging, drinking litres of cider ahead of an appointment, explaining that the sheets will be changed before a sixteen year old daughter sleeps in the room, etc, etc.

Playwright Alecky Blythe is unfailing sympathetic towards her subjects, but there is something slightly unseemly about a middle class London audience paying £22.50 to laugh at the genuine misfortunes of others.

On a lighter note, it should also be noted that the production is (unsurprisingly) utterly filthy. Spare a thought then for the American father who wearily asked his two teenage daughters whether they were going to write about this for their “What I did this summer” school assignment. I suspect it wasn’t at all what he expected from an Artistic Director like Kevin Spacey.