Typical Girls by Clean Break – Review – ★★★★★
A punk prison performance masterclass, championing the songs and Riot Grrrl feminist spirit of The Slits
The prison system is put under the microscope in this acutely observed gig-play by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and exquisitely interpreted by director Róisín McBrinn.
Typical Girls asks ‘can rebellion happen inside?’, with musician-facilitator Marie (channelling Maria from Sound of Music) coming to terms with the reality of the community-building mission of music whilst teaching music to a group of women prisoners in an experimental PIPE (Psychologically Informed Planned Environment) unit.
The musical journey of the characters is finely tuned, with goosebumps moments and loud, beautifully dishevelled interpretations of The Slits’ complex yet catchy, DIY masterpieces. The eponymous earworm hit Typical Girls is played and sung marvellously – Viv Albertine and The Slits should be proud – and hymn to the joys of petty theft, ‘Shoplifting’, is a light moment in otherwise dark places.
Standout performances come from Alison Fitzjohn’s Mouth, whose tearjerking ‘if you let us’ speech about those who’ve been through the prison system not having the belief to succeed is a real emotional highlight, and Carrie Rock’s on-edge prison worker, a testament to those who want to change and also have been jaded by the real-world realities. Munch, played by Lara Grace Ilori, makes for a beautifully complicated front-woman who comes out of their shell in a glorious awakening.
Seeing the show in the home of the working class, feel-good movie The Full Monty, Sheffield, Typical Girls could have been another of those Brit-flick flights of fancy. But no, the show cuts much deeper than that, with personal, richly illustrated monologues offering real stories that leap from reality rather than feel-good folklore.
Rather than patronise with saccharine sweetness, Typical Girls provides the raw emotional punch of real women and adds a much needed dose of reality to the ‘Dangerous Minds’ style teaching plot. This all-female show really deserves to transfer to a stage such as the National Theatre.