The Diary of a Teenage Girl is not a recollection of a young girl’s past; it depicts the seventies, particularly how adults then responded to vulnerable invidividuals. Phoebe Gloeckner lays bare truth, the consequences of which ripple through headlines in current news headlines.
Southwark Playhouse excels with its staging of the adaptation of Gloeckner’s graphic novel, The Diary Of A Teenage Girl. Placing the audience into a teenager’s room, Andrew Riley’s set design evokes the horror of having to experience the relationship between a victim and her abuser. Remaining faithful to the graphic novel artform, digital artistry adds to a year in which Minny (Rona Morrison) experiences her first relationship.
America, San Fransisco and Minny’s existence reveals abuse within Bay City. Minny is fifteen, she feels ugly and craves affection from her mother, but what she receives instead is attention from Munroe (Jamie Wilkes), her mother’s boyfriend. Swiftly, from placing his hand on her breast, he gets her drunk at a bar, and eventually takes her virginity.
The style switches constantly, between Minnie breaking the fourth wall and then instantly reverting back into dialogue; this never causes confusion, and at times, adds to the comical moments.
Kimmie, Minnie’s best friend, is played by Saskia Strallen. Her performance improves as the drama enfolds, revealing a caring side towards her friend. Kimmie is sexually active, from prostituting herself for little value, to sleeping with a married black man, her story goes that step further upon her revealing having slept with Pascal (Mark Carroll).
Pascal’s character is one with many layers, well-rounded yet with the least time onstage. Being the father figure he is, Minnie is truly distraught upon discovering the liaison between him and her best friend.
During this narrative intrigue, Gloeckner’s writing outshines. Why has Pascal been so concerned about Minnie? Despite leaving her mother, he remains in her life, offering guidance and being the one person to suspect Munroe’s ill-intention. Although his concern towards Minnie suggest similarities between him and Munroe, it is very disappointing that Minnie’s existence includes not a single man who views her as a child.
Even her psychologist at school, upon hearing the truth, urges the truth be kept from the mother, producing a sex toy Minnie can use to satisfy her urges. How is an individual to gain confidence when society reduces a child to nothing at every opportunity?
Rebecca Trehearn, playing Minnie’s Mum, fits into the shoes of a drunken single mother. Her attitude once the truth is discovered reveals how adults perceived sex in the seventies. It’s a significant juxtaposition to the post-Savile era.
Jamie Wilkes portrays the abuser as one would imagine; furthermore, his character is given depth by the suggestion that his own childhood is something he’d rather forget. This however is kept from both the audience and Minnie.
There is something missing from Munroe’s profile, his destruction is evident through his drug and drink problem, and of course his sexual interest in Minnie, yet what drives his actions is left to the imagination. Something often missing in stories reflecting abuse. Raising the question: do abusers deserve a platform?
The Diary of a Teenage Girl exposes the reality of sexual exploitation. Rona Morrison, switching between various states of emotions, gives a vulnerable and astute performance. Minnie is terrified, confident and shattered yet at the end, she outshines with her positive outlook, facing her abuser by confirming “I am better than you”.