Image by Prue Cunningham
While still in her teens Tessa Mitchell got drunk and danced at parties and clubs in the punk scene of Auckland in the early 80s, and has made a one-woman performance about it all: Girl You Want (referencing the Devo song of the same name).
Mitchell has confidence, presence and appeal as a performer and the piece flows nicely and is well paced. Vanessa Chapple directs. Mitchell dances, elegantly, a lot in the show but arguably too much given that there’s only an hour to get her story told and the repeated dancey bits don’t offer anything new.
Early in the show she introduces us to various characters she'll portray, again, possibly not the best use of time as most have only a few words to say. The characterization of her former boss Mrs Adams is woefully clichéd. There are family photos, bits of family background, and old snapshots of her neighbourhood as Mitchell recreates a sense of the Auckland of her youth.
To an extent Girl You Want is nostalgic, but Mitchell is not so much celebrating what was a wild and fertile time, musically and culturally speaking, in New Zealand, but rather is distancing herself from an adolescence no more dysfunctional or transgressive (or interesting) than anyone else’s. This is not to belie any difficulties she’s overcome but her story, intimate as it is, lacks impact, and the tone of the whole thing, the ending in particular, hints at regret. The most affecting part of this exercise in – and I say this reluctantly – self-indulgence is a segment about a sexual assault. Mitchell’s at her best as a storyteller here, employing a more stylized yet paradoxically less self-conscious theatricality.
One of the strengths of this show is how it creates a sense of the ever-present menace of violence, against women in particular, that still informs NZ society. I wanted to love this work as it references my youth in Auckland, but I found it a thin number.
Girl You Want has been extrapolated from a larger work, a ‘collaborative roving show’ called I wanna be nah na nah na na,’ where I imagine Mitchell's character sits more powerfully for not carrying the whole piece. There is certainly potential here once the show's raison d’être is refined.
The soundscape by Ben Holmes features original music but for my money the show would hold more relevance if it used some of the fine local music of the day.
La Mama presents
Girl You Want
by Tessa Mitchell
Directed by Chris Jannnides, Prue Cunningham and Vanessa Chapple
Venue: La Mama Theatre | 205 Faraday Street Carlton VIC
Dates: May 31 – June 4, 2017
Tickets: $25 – $15
Bookings: www.lamama.com.au | 9347 6142