‘If they said anything, who would believe them?’ one of the coddled young rapists in Nicola Hanekom’s disconcerting Girls Just Wanna Have Fun sneers at his accomplice. It’s a refrain all too familiar to the ears of those who live in a society where survivors of date rape are routinely regarded with scepticism, even though the crime they have suffered has become a devastatingly commonplace occurrence.
The audience enters amidst the overlapping chatter of various characters discussing their lives and loves in the manner of subjects talking to a documentary film camera. Two women (Atlanta Johnson and Ashleigh van der Hoven) giggle and blush as they declare how much they adore each other. Another (Chloe Papademetriou) sadly recalls a friendship (with Meghan Oberholzer’s character) in cryptic terms. Yet another woman (Keziah Gabriel) talks about her boyfriend as she straddles him, instantly making the observer uneasy: Something’s wrong here —the girl’s boyfriend seems distant, controlling, even now with his back to the audience as his girlfriend clutches at him.
Enter Mike and Kevin (Joel Rosenblatt and Cody Mountain), tennis players on top of the world. Mike and Kevin have discovered something they call ‘the deal-closer’, and they’re not afraid to use it. Soon, their victims start to piece together what happened to them, and there’s no turning back. The young couple remember their trauma in harrowing fragments, laying bare the irreparable damage the ordeal has wreaked on their lives. Papademetriou’s character reveals her confusion and guilt at being jealous of her dead friend. (Why wasn’t she chosen to be the victim? Why is she even having these thoughts?) Kevin’s girlfriend reveals her own nauseating insecurity when she notes that the dead girl was prettier than she is. The tennis players react with indignation when they are suspected of murder, and, in a very cleverly constructed thread that runs through the entire piece, each man proceeds to incriminate the other to save his own skin.
Just when you think the depravity couldn’t possibly get any more grotesque, it does. To these men, women are their property, diversions to be made use of and then discarded. One can’t help but remember a motto one of them voiced earlier —‘teamwork makes the dream work’— as their exploits are exposed in a truly unsettling climax that brings their animalistic natures to the surface. ‘He’s a real man and men don’t do that —monsters do,’ says Kevin’s girlfriend. Looking at the snarling, wild creatures on stage, one may be tempted to agree with her —that is, until one remembers how much those wild creatures resembled ‘real men’ at the start of the play. Perhaps we should stop looking for monsters and start keeping an eye on the real men.
Hanekom’s explosive text takes bareknuckle swings at a topic most people wouldn’t dare bring up at the dinner table. The events depicted in this play represent what happens when macho culture, privilege, and an unfathomable disregard for women collide. Clear, nuanced writing and a strong technical execution, coupled with spellbinding performances, make this production an experience audiences won’t be allowed to forget in a hurry.
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun is part of the Cape Town Fringe Festival and can be seen for two more performances on the 30th of September and the 1st of October at P4 Studio.