What do you get when you mix two best friends, shitty boyfriends, and an electric blue Ford Falcon? According to Girls in Boys’ Cars, a road trip of a lifetime. Adapted for the stage from Felicity Castagna’s novel of the same name, Priscilla Jackman’s Girls in Boys’ Cars follows the lives of best friends Rosa (Ziggy Resnick) and Asheeka (Nikita Waldron) as they wade through the trials and tribulations of teenage-hood, family, friendship, and love.
The story is told non-linearly, with audiences first meeting Resnick’s Rosa, who has found herself in juvenile detention following — what is evidently insinuated to be — the not-so-happy end of the girls’ road trip fiasco. From here the production engages in a back-and-forth between past and present; Rosa retracing her steps while in juvie, leading audiences through the beginnings of her friendship with Asheeka, their dealings with boys they are too good for, and the eventual theft of Asheeka’s shitty boyfriend’s car which kickstarts their journey on the road from Parramatta Maccas across New South Wales (with a quick pit-stop in Canberra).
Resnick’s growing self-assurance as Rosa is subtle yet impactful, showcasing a coming-of-age that feels believable. Similarly, Waldron embodies Asheeka as simultaneously confident and insecure, slowly pulling apart and making apparent the anxieties and burdens of expectation that Asheeka carries. Resnick and Waldron are at home in these characters, where despite the glaring differences in social standing and familial expectation, their friendship makes sense. Yes, the friendship is toxic and messy and a little too codependent, but there’s a familiarity and solidarity in the experience that’s just a tad nostalgic for those of us who were also once teenage girls.
The standout performances are from the ensemble, including Suz Mawer, Ella Prince, and Alex Stamell. Sharing a multitude of roles — from the differing sets of parents to multiple different boys across an array of settings to fellow juvie inmates to high school mean girls (amongst quite a few others) — Mawer, Prince and Stamell move into these extremely diverse characters with ease. Their quick changes in physicality, tone, and expression were extremely demanding, and they pulled it off seamlessly.
Despite these high notes in performances, while Jackman and the design team rise to the challenge of putting on a road trip in a theatre setting, the stage production seems to bite off more than it can chew. The problem is that the successful cohesion of the text, projection, sound and space depended on each component working seamlessly. However, the production design, while creative in its multi-use of props and sliders, seemed oftentimes a hindrance to the performance, with the actors particularly struggling to ensure sliders were in correct position at various points throughout the show. Mark Bolotin’s multimedia projections, Zac Saric’s sound and Morgan Moroney’s lighting helped ground the multiple settings, but again relied heavily on the physical components in order to do so. Hopefully the mechanical errors and technical glitches are fixed and fine tuned across the rest of the season to prevent the unfortunate delays of the opening night (and extra kudos to the cast for taking such delays in stride).
Despite hiccups on the production side of things, it is evident that Girls in Boys’ Cars was conceived with a lot of love and a lot of care. In her writer’s note to the play, Castagna explains that Asheeka and Rosa are driven by “the frustration of not quite knowing how to convey your story and not feeling like anyone was interested in listening to it anyway”. It’s an experience I think many women are accustomed to. There’s both space and kindness afforded in Jackman’s adaptation to convey, and listen to, the messiness and turmoil and contradiction that marks the trajectory of being a teenage girl. The story is not perfect, but then again, neither are the girls telling it.
Girls in Boys’ Cars plays at Riverside’s National Theatre of Parramatta until November 3rd. Tickets can be found here.