Girl From Nowhere

Mon 1st October 2012

reviews

Charlie Brookhouse

at 14:18 on 2nd Oct 2012

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Showing for one night only, Girl From Nowhere’s appearance in Cambridge is fleeting like the career of its protagonist. Fortunately, though, this single person performance is a work in progress, its title a self-deprecating reference to itself.

Victoria Rigby’s play adopts a number of tried and tired narrative formulae. Jeannie is a dreamer, naïve, but aspiring, captivated by the crunch tones of 60s guitar bands that are reproduced on the radio. She’s a good-girl-gone-bad, misguided, misled perhaps. And her spontaneous departure from home with a view to making it big in the music industry is a passive aggressive gesture. When a flat tyre forces her to stop in the middle of the desert, this is the sign and roll of the dice that’s she’s been waiting for. A handsome man comes to help who just so happens to be a talented musician. Jeannie eventually ditches her boyfriend and musical accomplice and sets on a new journey to the top of the charts. A different formula - whatever goes up must come down – then comes into play. Drugs, sex, rock and roll, paranoia, jealously and popularity all conspire to end the meteoric rise into superstardom.

The value added in Rigby’s production is partly in its posing questions about the dynamics of addiction. Can you defeat one pleasure with another, drugs with sex? On the other hand, do sadness and happiness cancel out? Jeannie’s partial submission to, possibly enjoyment of, revenge rape is one such puzzle. However, Rigby’s narrative benefits most from its mode of delivery.

Rigby, the sole performer, recounts the story of this rise and fall to a tape machine. And with what end in mind, for the most part we don’t know. The latent possibility of rerecording the message prompts Jeannie to think about how she might rephrase or refigure her story. An audible record of a vocal message has a pretence to instantaneity that is parodied by the possibility that its target listener may never hear it through, receive it, or play it at the instant that it is received. Jeannie’s confession to a tape loop machine is like a life-searching broadcast into outer space. We are not alone was the message of sixties crop circles and various “spiritual” movements. But Jeannie is alone, with only her tape looped double for company. Most worryingly, perhaps her desperate confession, replete as it is with clichés, will be emptied of meaning through repetition. When the artist Jenny Holzer projected the words “PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT” (1986) in Time Square, her giant capitals muted the message like the written chorus of a dull pop song.

There is more unrealised potential in Girl From Nowhere. Besides the latent irony in a singer’s disregard for the messages of their own songs, there is the unconsidered influence of reduplicative recording technologies. A crackly recording of a conversation can have a ghostly resurrecting power. Conversely, it is easy to become desensitised to a message repeated over and over, whether in a song or otherwise. A closer engagement with these issues would make Girl From Nowhere less a set of narrative formulae and more an inquiry into why desire, ambition, and cliché are so fundamentally linked.

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