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Girls and Dolls: In conversation with A² Productions

Neily Raymond speaks to A² Productions about their play Girls and Dolls, written by Derry Girls' Lisa McGee.

Fans of the hit comedy series Derry Girls, pay heed: the show’s creator, Lisa McGee, is also a playwright, and her striking debut play Girls and Dolls is coming to Oxford. We spoke with A2 Productions about their experience of putting Girls and Dolls onstage. 

Can you give me a spoiler-free summary of Girls and Dolls? 

Alex Foster, producer: It’s set in 1980s Ireland, and it’s about two friends [Emma and Clare]. The first half is typical Derry Girls, with lots of colourful characters and comedy, but then it gets darker with the introduction of a new neighbour and her daughter. Clare gets an unhealthy obsession with the daughter, and things get darker from there – but if you want to find out just how dark, come and see the play!

Your creative team is bursting with people who are new to Oxford drama. Was this an intentional choice?

Alex: The choice was completely intentional. When we put the crew call out, we knew that we wanted to make a platform for new creatives. Obviously, one show can’t change everything overnight, but we’re hoping that people who come and see this are going to realise that you don’t have to stock the stage with people who have huge amounts of experience. 

Emma Haran, ‘Emma’: I am a first year, so this is my first experience with Oxford drama. A friend of mine sent over the Facebook message about the audition, and I thought, why not give it a go? I have done drama before, at home, so it was exciting to give it a go with everyone here. 

Sylvie Leggatt, ‘Clare’: I saw the previous play that A2 put on last term [The Dumb Waiter, HT22] which was great. So when there was a casting call for actors that haven’t had a chance to get into Oxford drama – it can be a bit difficult – I was interested instantly, because it sounded perfect. Obviously, the show is incredibly intriguing, and it has been great fun.

Why did you decide to stage this show?

Alex: There are two main reasons: first, Derry Girls is funny as f**k. It’s a really, really good sitcom, and not only funny, but quite truthful about what it was like in 1980s and 90s Ireland. That’s half of it – Lisa McGee is not a name that you’d normally see in Oxford drama. We normally see Pinter, or Brecht, or a musical or something. There’s this idea that those are ‘proper’ theatre. But bringing in Lisa McGee makes it more accessible: if audiences find Derry Girls funny, they’ll find this funny, and if they find this funny, then they’ll want to get involved in Oxford drama. It’s not quite as intense as going through all the Stanislavskis and Brechts. 

The other half of it is that history seems to be converging on this point. It’s been 25 years since Blair got elected for the first time. A year later, he sorted the Good Friday agreement, and that’s where the final episode of Derry Girls concludes. It feels like the right time to put something like this on. And it’s more of a right time because the new season of Derry Girls is now out!

How have you dealt with the political context of the play? 

Bella Simpson, co–director: As with everything I do in terms of politics, it’s about being considerate of people and the facts of what happened. I think to stage something like this show, you have to be really aware of the different experiences that people went through, especially in Northern Ireland itself. I have Irish family history, so I was able to look to that, and one of our crew members has an Irish background as well. Incorporating the advice of people who have a personal connection to the story is really important. 

Favourite line from the show: go. 

Kaveri Parekh, co–director: “We love babies” –  said mockingly. You have to come to the show to find out why that’s funny!

Why should we come and see Girls and Dolls?

Kaveri: I think the popularity of Derry Girls [demonstrates] that shows like this, with a good balance of witty humour and colourful characters, family dynamics and psychological insights, are the perfect blend to watch. 

Bella: It educates, but it also entertains. I think that is very important. 

Alex: After everything that OUDS has been through recently with worries about accessibility, and coming back after COVID, Girls and Dolls aims to look towards the future of what Oxford drama can be. 

Girls and Dolls runs from the 10th – 14th May at Burton Taylor Studio. Tickets are available online here. Visit A2 Productions on Instagram @asquaredprods.

Image credit: A2 Productions.

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