Review: Girl Torque

Women in STEM: laugh, or you’ll cry

From slimy bosses, misogynistic colleagues and a hostile yet pointless working environment, Nicola Irvine‘s Girl Torque paints the realities of being a woman in engineering as bleak.

Following Nicola at 18, as she is beginning an engineering apprenticeship, full of verve and vigour, she is met with a mundane work environment and unbridled misogyny. This may not sound like the great basis for a comedy, but the powerful acting and intense characterisation make it unquestionably laughable.

Being a woman means dealing with spanners (Image Credits: Nicola Irvine)

The play wonderfully tackles the difficulty of womanhood in such a workplace, and how femininity can feel like a lose-lose situation. Young Nicola, played by Ariel Hebditch, captures the juvenile innocence of ‘if I’m nice to them, they will be nice to me!’ which is met with unmitigated failure. Though sweet, I found it hard to like the protagonist, especially contrasting more powerful, though unlikeable, characters, and so I felt disinterested in her success. Frequently breaking the fourth wall to release her anger at the situation helped us to empathise with her, much like Fleabag dealing with her bank manager, though by the end the sheer volume of this began to become predictable.

The other side of the coin is trying to assimilate with the environment by being stoic, unemotional, and unfeminine, which is brilliantly captured by Jessica (Margaret Saunderson). Having a stern face and a detached, apathetic take, she receives less overt mockery for being weak but is still told to crack her face and dress appropriately.

The easiest character to like is decidedly Karen (Anastasia Maciver), the jolly and beloved receptionist, who so quickly feels like the only force for good in this play. The motherly and loving air she brings can’t help but make you feel despair at the situation, however, as she portrays a successful woman’s role in this industry: organising and making tea.

Some engineers have fun! (Image Credits: Nicola Irvine)

The lasting memories of this play for me will be that of Christian Longstaff‘s performance. As skin-crawling as it was captivating, every scene he was in came alive, and it will be a long time until I can forget him seductively licking a cardboard box. In each character he played, from the spitting IT geek to the obnoxious boss, the room was rapt, epitomised in the Patrick Swayze in Ghost-style manual handling course.

The punchy and strong beginning set the play up to be an undeniable success, but on opening night disaster struck, and the play was cut off halfway through. Despite this, seeing these scenes for the second time actually made them funnier, but the problem was many of the scenes in the second half felt twice as long as they needed to be. It’s no one’s fault it’s the late show, but at half past midnight in exam term, by the end of an hour and a half of this heavy topic, it began to drag.

As good as the characters are, as good as the energy is, and as much as the writing and directing do carry a comedy, there were some jokes that just didn’t land on either night I watched it. For the most part, directing was strong, though there were some odd choices, such as the Harry Potter-theming, which didn’t really add anything beyond confusion.

Every workplace has a Eugene (Jasper Kwok) (Image Credits: Nicola Irvine)

The lack of costuming was made up for by the discrete and completely convincing characterisations, and the staging was minimal beyond a desk and chairs, with the remnants of The Seagull‘s pond. The transitions, lighting and sound all felt a bit under-rehearsed, but with a little brushing up would be fixed very quickly, and it is well on its way to being a well-polished show.

This leads us to a final problem with this play: it’s a comedy, but with no development and comeback from the unbridled misogyny, and with no resolve by the end, it feels utterly despondent. As a woman myself who turned down an engineering place in part for fear of the working environment, it’s hard to fathom why anyone would volunteer themselves for this. Naturally, the characters are overexaggerated and the situations, we would hope, are rarely that dire, but even 10 per cent of what is portrayed would be enough to put off most young women.


Girl Torque is showing Wed 17th – Sat 20th of May at the ADC Theatre at 11 pm. Book your tickets here.

Feature Image Credits: Nicola Irvine

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