Reviewed – 7th March 2019
“Ferguson tells Kirsty’s story with heart and humour, invoking millennial nostalgia by spraying Charlie Red and swigging WKD Blue”
Early 2000s Brentwood: By day, 16-year-old Kirsty and her friends attend a Catholic all-girls school, wearing hideous ‘deck chair’ striped uniforms. By night, they’re in platform heels, push-up bras, and skin-tight dresses, downing cheap pre-drinks and conning their way into clubs. On the surface it seems fairly harmless – they’re young, having fun. But the truth is Kirsty’s friends aren’t that nice, and the boys (or men) she meets aren’t that nice either. Actually, most of the time, Kirsty’s not having very much fun at all.
Essex Girl, written and performed by Maria Ferguson, is a scathing one-woman show that confronts a zeitgeist and incisively articulates the damage absorbed by the girls who lived it. But the performance isn’t overtly angry – Ferguson tells Kirsty’s story with heart and humour, invoking millennial nostalgia by spraying Charlie Red and swigging WKD Blue. Instead, like the microaggressions Kirsty encounters, Ferguson’s feminist criticism is insidious. It appears in seemingly offhanded comments: The girls’ schools all have slut-related nicknames (Sacred Heart = Sacred Tarts). The Campion boys don’t have any nicknames. There’s impressive craft in this execution.
Ferguson is a gifted performer. She uncannily embodies the contradiction of the fag-smoking, liquor-drinking, thong-wearing 16-year-old, who is, inescapably, still a child: naively believing her predators are her friends. She tells rich, authentic stories slashed with sharp observation. She describes a time she and her friends, tottering in heels, waited while a bouncer checked their fake IDs. She says only that he looked the girls over, but her delivery communicates volumes: He knew they were underage, but gauged they were sexy enough to be good for business. What do club-prowling, money-spending men want? The bouncer lets them in as casually as tossing bait into a shark tank.
Although the monologue can meander at times, the genius in Ferguson’s script is the subtlety with which she reveals, through entertaining anecdotes, the way girls are primed for abuse. In a land of tanning beds, heavy makeup, and fake tits, Essex girls learn that the goal is to be desired, and to change themselves to achieve it. Kirsty learns all the words to a song she doesn’t like to impress a guy named Ricky. She rates her value on whether or not Ricky wants her. It never occurs to her to re-evaluate whether she should want him: someone who ignores her most of the time and has Guns N’ Roses bedsheets. Kirsty and her friends have been taught to want men to want them, but nothing about having standards for men who respect them.
Of course the power of Essex Girl is that it isn’t just about Essex. Ferguson’s honest and frank account of a teenage girl’s experience will resonate with women regardless of whether they’re from Brentwood, or even the UK. Through skilled storytelling, Ferguson has percipiently captured the moments of injury – the ones most grown women have forgotten, looking at an array of bruises and wondering where they all came from. A valuable addition to the current feminist dialogue.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Photography by Suzi Corker
Part of VAULT Festival 2019