THE SECRET LIVES OF SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD GIRLS
09/11/2021 - 13/11/2021
17/02/2021 - 20/02/2021
Real-life mother and daughter star in the premiere of a resounding new show about growing up online and IRL.
“Sarah has a singular ability to find emotion and love and profound humanity in places where lesser writers would only find darkness.” Michael Bennett, Screenwriter
Screenwriter and actor Sarah Boddy takes the stage alongside her teenage daughter, Lola Gonzalez Boddy, and whip-smart actor Emma Rattenbury. Together, they bring to life familiar characters from home and high school.
The Secret Lives of Sixteen-Year-Old Girls is a contemporary coming-of-age tale across generations. Honestly, we’re all making it up as we go – life gets complicated beyond the scooter phase.
Plunket books, potties, Spiderman, diggers, and birthday cakes grow into secrets, sex, and Snapchat. Smirnoff 4-packs that Mum knows about, social media accounts she does not… Now this silence. Just in her room – lost in that device. Promising she is doing her homework. She’s not.
Sharp, awkward and funny with a gut-punch; The Secret Lives of Sixteen-Year- Old Girls has curated honest experience into a powerful tale of our digital age.
CONTENT WARNING: The Secret Lives of Sixteen-Year-Old Girls contains sexual assault, violence, and reference to self harm. The play deals with mental health, drug use, sexual violence toward a teenager, and an experience of the criminal justice system.
BATS Theatre, The Random Stage
16 – 20 February 2021
6:30pm: Tues & Wed
8:30pm: Thur, Fri, Sat.
The Difference $40
Full Price $22
Group 6+ $20
Concession Price $18
On 15 Feb BATS added this:
We are still going ahead with this show under current [Level 2] restrictions. A condition of operating under Level 2 is limiting capacity in the theatres for physical distancing. [Those able to attend on a different date are asked to book on one of the new dates if possible.]
We have added two additional shows:
6pm on Friday the 19th of February
4pm on Saturday the 20th of February 2021.
The Random Stage is fully wheelchair accessible; please contact the BATS Box Office by 4.30pm on the show day if you have accessibility requirements so that the appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS.
BATS Theatre, The Dome
9 – 13 November 2021
& 2pm Matinee, Sat 13 November
The Difference $40
Full Price $25
Group 6+ $22
Concession Price $20
Mum/ Crown Lawyer: Sarah Boddy
Lulu: Lola Gonzalez Boddy
(November season, alternating with Brooke McCloy)
Lucy/Defense Lawyer: Emma Rattenbury
Production Design by Lucas Neal
Sound Design by Isaac Rajan
Stage Management by Tyler Clarke
Produced by Eleanor Strathern
with support from Dr. Cathy Stephenson
1 hr 20 min
Fun, human and confronting
Review by Emilie Hope 10th Nov 2021
When Lucy (Emma Rattenbury) and Lulu (Lola Gonzalez Boddy) appear on stage in their cute pyjamas, I think this is going to be a fun, frivolous play about teen girls, their many social media apps, and how the internet can be an unhealthy, toxic and, at times, dangerous place. The Secret Lives of Sixteen Year Old Girls does touch on these elements but the play unfolds itself beautifully, delving deeper until we end somewhere much more serious and confronting than I expected.
The Secret Lives of Sixteen Year Old Girls revolves around two besties, Lucy and Lulu, who do almost everything together – they are even blowing up on Tik Tok! Lulu’s mother, Mum (Sarah Boddy), is an overwhelmed, slightly anxious parent who wants to be present but not annoy her daughter – a tricky and daunting task. The play is dotted with asides from the characters, Lucy and Mum in particular using the audience to share their innermost feelings.
Lucy tells us she doesn’t want to be a social media superstar, she actually wants to be an underwater archaeologist but is afraid to say this out loud and be proud of this pursuit. Later we discover Lucy has more troubling mental health issues where she feels numb yet wants to be happy and wants to feel something, anything. Rattenbury does an incredible job of giving us an authentic, complex performance of Lucy, toying with my heart in the best possible way.
Mum, on the other hand, is navigating privacy and safety issues with Lulu’s life, especially with her online activity. At one point, Mum asks breathlessly, “Is anyone else slightly terrified of their child?” The audience laughs. Mum’s struggle is entertaining yet understandable. We empathise with her yet laugh at her mistakes. Boddy, the writer and actor of Mum, has truly stuck an amazing balance with this character and it is so much fun watching her on stage.
I find Lulu aloof and it is difficult to connect with her for most of the play. However, when she learns more about Lucy’s true feelings, she instantly lets down her walls and tries to be a good friend – it is moments like these that allow Lulu to be a more complex character. Gonzalez Boddy also delivers a powerful performance towards the end of the show, where Lulu becomes more emotional yet defiant as she struggles to live with the new reality. Gonzalez Boddy does a great job of accurately portraying Lulu as sassy and supercilious yet still incredibly human.
These actors’ performances are a testament to the generous direction of Kerryn Palmer, who, armed with Boddy’s superb script, truly helps make these characters come alive. (Brooke McCloy alternates with Gonzalez Boddy in the role of Lulu.)
Lucas Neal does another exquisite job with the set design with three hanging coloured shapes – rectangular, square, and circle – suspended from the Dome’s grid at BATS Theatre, and some small, raised stages to create a modern, interesting, yet funky atmosphere. I feel the actors could have interreacted with these hanging pieces more, but they were used to project text messages, videos, and app icons throughout the show, including messages to the audience when the show shifts in tone and delves down its more sinister path.
I am not expecting the play to make such a turn yet, in retrospect, it does make sense. I am also not expecting this partly because I did not research or look up anything regarding the play prior to attending. All I knew was that this is the show’s return to BATS Theatre after a sold-out season in February this year. Therefore, I think it is only fair I let you know that the play contains sexual assault, violence, and reference to self-harm. It deals with mental health, drug use, sexual violence towards a teenager and an experience of the criminal justice system. It is noted in the programme that if anyone would like to talk after the show, support is available in the theatre and in the foyer if anyone wishes to leave early.*
I am grateful to Palmer for having thought of these elements and creating a safe space for people to experience and be confronted with such harsh realities about rape culture in New Zealand, creating dialogues with parents, teenagers, friends, and family.
In the final section of the show, I think of Grace Millane and all the other women whose lives have been lost due to sexual violence, many of them we do not even know by name, nor the names of the perpetrators. I think of the rape culture that was so pervasive amongst the boys of Wellington College on social media yet was not solely contained on social media. I leave the show hit with so much emotion that I am not expecting and I am glad of it. This is what theatre is meant to do.
The Secret Lives of Sixteen Year Old Girls is fun, human and confronting. I’m so glad it has returned to the stage. Thank you to the cast and crew for delivering such a polished production to the Wellington stage again.
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*[The BATS website page for this production includes the following:
CONTENT WARNING: The Secret Lives of Sixteen-Year-Old Girls contains sexual assault, violence, and reference to self harm. The play deals with mental health, drug use, sexual violence toward a teenager, and an experience of the criminal justice system. – ed]
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
An insightful play that everyone should see
Review by John Smythe 18th Feb 2021
There is a special delight in being invited into a secret. It’s like being offered membership of an exclusive club.
Sixteen-year-old girls are such a club and they keep their secrets for a range of reasons: to gain a sense of independence, agency and power; because it’s nobody else’s business anyway; for fear of the consequences if they get found out; because they feel guilt, self-doubt, embarrassment, shame … The quest for peer-group approval and parental love underlies, and sometimes undermines, everything.
The parents of sixteen-year-old girls are another exclusive club – the mothers, especially, because they have been there and done all sorts of things they kept secret from their mums, but can they be sure their daughters will be safe in this ever-changing world? Social media, for instance – how secret is that? (All permutations, both actual and rhetorical, are valid for this question.) Having all but lost their individual identities in the quagmire of being ‘the mother’, they too are riddled with secret fear, guilt, self-doubt, embarrassment, shame …
Secrets are theatre’s stock-in-trade. There is a convention that when a character confides in the audience, their secret is safe. Playwright Sarah Boddy exploits this well, in the ‘direct address’ sections that punctuate The Secret Lives of Sixteen-Year-Old Girls. There could be theatrical potential in each character explicitly asking the audience to keep their secrets, thereby making us complicit – but this may have been explored and discarded in the development process, given the over-riding objective is clearly to bring the secrets to light for the good of everyone involved.
Thank goodness, I say. We all need to know – and how better than through a theatrically fictionalised account of personal and observed experiences.
As I understand it, the script has been informed by the experiences of all involved – particularly Sarah Boddy, who also plays the role of ‘Mum’ (significantly she gives herself no name); her just-turned 17 daughter Lola Gonzalez Boddy, who plays ‘Mum’s daughter, Lulu; director Kerryn Palmer who is also the mother of teenagers. While nothing should be seen as autobiographical, everything is undoubtedly true.
Emma Rattenbury completes the cast as Lulu’s best friend Lucy and transforms, with astonishing veracity, into the role of a barrister defending the accused. Sarah also appears, transformed, as the prosecuting barrister. The details of the case before this court must remain secret, here, because to reveal any more would be a spoiler. Suffice to say, it’s serious and salutary.
Meanwhile there is much insightful humour to be enjoyed. Lulu is the first to engage us by introducing us to the mysteries of our social media options. It quickly becomes apparent we need to keep up in order to know what hot and what’s not (even using those terms may provoke an eye-roll). But it is the tyranny of the smartphone itself that drives ‘Mum’ to distraction. That Lola and Sarah embody the daughter-mother relationship with utter conviction should come as no surprise – yet there is remarkable maturity, bravery and generosity in their doing so, given the territory they cover.
Lola and Emma also bring great authenticity to the ebb and flow of Lulu and Lucy’s relationship. Moments of inseparable closeness are contrasted with moments of doubt and difference. Particularly poignant are the glimpses of their nostalgia for a more innocent childhood as their inexorable progress towards adulthood carries them away from it. With director Kerryn Palmer they ensure we ‘read’ the subtext of their secret thoughts and feelings.
Sometimes gasping laughter is provoked by the innocence with which they bandy about acronyms and other terms for things we may hope are well beyond their personal experience.
Sarah’s variously harassed, determined and self-doubting ‘Mum’ confides her dilemmas and her past just enough to put the present into perspective. She also touches on the difference between her teenage daughter and (older) son. I don’t recall a ‘Dad’ being mentioned – neither Lulu’s nor Lucy’s – so assume we are soley in solo-mum territory; a very common circumstance for this generation.
There is an absorbing subtlety in the way Lucy’s story emerges, reminding us that the way people present themselves in public, and even – especially? – with their close friends and family, may be the opposite of what’s really going on.
Lulu’s vexed relationship with a boy call Blue, and a looming party, give the play a narrative spine. While the girls’ lives involve a great deal more than preoccupation with boys (the script passes the Bechdel test with flying colours) they do inevitably feature. The pixilated testimony of Blue (uncredited) is chilling.
Lucas Neal’s production design uses light-trimmed black surfaces and boxes with glowing panels to facilitate the flexibility of locations, and hanging sheets of coloured Perspex become apparent or not, and are sometimes reflective, as determined by his ingenious lighting design (operated by Dani Ainsworth or Lochie Parker). Isaac Rajan’s sound design completes the contexts within which the action plays out.
The Secret Lives of Sixteen-Year-Old Girls is an insightful play that everyone should see. Obviously all parents and teenagers will get a lot from it – and so will anyone else who touches such lives. We are a team of five million, after all, and we know the value of looking out for each other.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer