The Girl Who Looked Like Me Review

The Girl Who Looked Like Me
By Katrrina Raine
UEA Drama Studio

The Girl Who Looked Like Me is a play written and directed by Katriina Raine for the UEA Masters in Theatre Direction program. It is a work that deals with issues involving the sex-trafficking industry and it deposits these not only onto the stage in front of an audience but into our awareness. For working alongside the violence and the dirt of this trade is a mildly disturbing thread of normality that brings us up short on any attempt to rationalise and distance ourselves from the reality of the situation. This is not a play that gives us any permission to escape from what occurs, we are asked as we exist in a society that sanctions such brutality are we ultimately a part of it?

According to the program notes The Girl Who Looked Like Me is about Aurelia but it tells the story of many women. We hear stories from the med student who is kidnapped; the young friends who travel abroad; the boyfriend who betrays his love; the ‘aunt’ who takes her ‘niece.’ These girls’ separate narratives clash for a time in a camp where they are brutally reminded of their new status as chattels, owned body and mind by men. From here they are once again moved along, sold into slavery where there is no hope of escape. The extended scene where we hear their disparate stories is important as it demonstrates the scope of the sex-trade but the effect does leave the narrative a little scattered through all these voices. Aurelia is merely one of many, many lost souls in this piece; it seems it is not her story but theirs. Perhaps it would have focussed the flow of the play to tighten in more on Aurelia as a character and her story with the others as echoes to her tale. But then again who is anyone to impose a hierarchy on suffering by taking that decision? Ultimately it is about that little girl who now wakes and faces a mirror and to no longer see herself but “a girl that looked liked me.” Her name might be Aurelia but it might be Sofiya; Natalia; Dana; Guila; Gabriela. It might be Julia. It might be you.

It is difficult in a work such as this to portray the enemy. To stage the corrupt and the disgusting too often can become distorted into caricature. The decision to have very normal looking men in this play points again to the sense of normality that sugar-coats the ugly side of the sex-industry. The “banality of evil” is a concept by Hannah Arendt that sits comparably with this play. There was a horrific dramatic irony to watching a club manager defend his practice of ‘employing’ foreign girls as a way of protecting your sisters, daughters and mothers. Ha. Equally chilling were the boys on laptops organising casual sex with working girls across Europe as if ordering something from e-bay. There is of course nothing wrong with a sex-industry if the conditions are safe, the money is fair and there is a consensual exchange. It’s just that much of the time it is not and in awkwardly laughing at this message board Katriina Raine is asking us, are we complicit with this?

It was a strong ensemble cast of UEA drama students who worked with this difficult subject matter. In the notes on rehearsal process the Rain writes she tried to play out “difficult subject on stage without using much literal imagery or action.” As such the staging this production was quite simple and unadorned but it didn’t need to be and it was a suitable platform for the stories. There are however interesting questions in the future development of this work, does there need to be men in it at all? What would be the effect of focussing in on one or maybe two stories? There are many ways this material could be shaped further. It is such an important issue that it deserves to be a continuing project – and as is reinforced the director’s notes Katriina Raine is determined not to let us forget that it’s not about the sex, it is the about the people.

One thing I would say is it would have been an idea if the program had information on where to seek help if you are the victim of sexual assault or if you mightn’t be aware of support if you are working in the sex-industry. I can’t really supply much information as I have luckily not needed to and am not familiar with support services in the UK but do ask google, there are people to help.