Simon Ward reviews Good Girl at The Old Red Lion, Islington.
On a stage bare but for a raised gold-painted circular platform, Naomi Sheldon gingerly dips her toe and then plunges headlong into an exhilarating, exhausting hour of confessional, squirmingly honest, often hilarious talk. This piece was a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe and you can see why – we are treated to a virtuoso performance, punctuated only by well-chosen blasts of Abba and Madonna, from a star-in-the-making who never misses a beat. Matt Peover’s unshowy direction and Alison Neigbour’s pared-back design allow the central performance to shine.
I have written before about the dread of the one-person show. The pain and embarrassment when it all goes wrong is intense, for audience as much as performer, especially in a small room like this. It takes courage to embark on this for any part, but to stand there for an hour and talk us through from childhood to adolescence, to young adulthood and the present day is still more impressive. Especially in a show described, as these things inevitably are, as ‘semi-autobiographical’. It could have been a disaster, but Ms Sheldon’s warmth and charm are immediately winning, and we know from the outset that we are in safe hands.
Which is not to say that it is a comfortable evening – far from it. GG, as the title character is known, does not have an easy time of it. She has been transposed from London to Sheffield at an early age, for reasons never explained. Although she has a Dad who appears to be well-meaning and kind, they find it hard to make a connection. There is no Mum; there are no siblings. She has to find some friends, and she does. GG really loves her friends, but as the years go on, she finds it harder and harder to be the person they expect her to be, and they gradually fall away, one misadventure after another. She feels she has to suppress her true personality in order to fit in, with the result that she is numbly watching her life happen without ever really engaging.
If that makes it sound bleak, it shouldn’t. The friends, the sex, the fallings out are rendered in a series of often comical vignettes with spot-on accents for the Northern friends and, especially, a deadpan American friend from Uni.
Nevertheless there are no easy answers here. Years of numbness and bad choices inevitably take a toll. But in the end, theatre itself, this show, this hour, is GG’s way of allowing all of her bursting energy to be expressed. That, and Abba Gold, sometimes even as far as Chiquitita…
Good Girl is playing at The Old Red Lion Theatre, London EC1V 4NJ at 7:30pm until 1st December 2017.
It will be at The Vault Festival from 28th February until 4th March 2018 before a UK tour