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Wednesday, November 9, 2022

The Hope River Girls review – bold teen show transcends target market | Theatre

Last time around it was called The Afflicted and enjoyed a run at the 2019 Edinburgh fringe. Now the Groupwork show has been rebooted as The Hope River Girls and is looking bold and confident as it twirls its way towards the Edinburgh international children’s festival. There, it should entrance not only its target teenage market but anyone with a taste for off-centre dance theatre.

In a fictionalised version of a real incident, the setting is upstate New York where, in 2012, a case breaks out of mass psychogenic illness. Without obvious cause or connection, 24 girls in a rust-belt school are beset by a disorder that causes them to dance uncontrollably.

Choreographer Vicki Manderson, who co-directs with Finn den Hertog, takes that as her cue to build evolving patterns of angular movement. Closely synchronised, Amy Kennedy, Eléna Redmond, Amelia Jones and Grace Gibson begin with finger clicks and sweeps of the hair, compulsive gestures you could almost miss. As the disorder spreads, so arms swing, knees jerk and elbows jut in an involuntary dance of quiet intensity.

The Hope River Girls c Mihaela Bodlovic (2)
‘Arms swing, knees jerk and elbows jut’ … The Hope River Girls. Photograph: Mihaela Bodlovic

Rather than a conventional narrative, Jake Jeppson’s script offers a set of possibilities. Fleshed out by Lewis den Hertog’s video collage of perplexed and pontificating adults, it provides no definitive explanation of the girls’ behaviour, although it hints at the stresses of growing up in a world in flux.

The girls are as mystified as anyone, but by placing them centre stage, the show puts the action in their hands. They may lack the words to explain it, but in the self-absorbed ritual of their choreography, they seem to express a unified purpose and a shared sense of resolve in the face of a bewildering world.

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