If you’re looking for a thought-provoking Fringe Show, White Girls, by Madeleine Accalia, could fit the bill. A play produced by the Laughing Mirror Theatre Company, White Girls opens a Pandora’s box of self-reflection about immigration, and our personal responsibility for our fellow human beings, that resonates long after you’ve left the show. The set begins with two, fresh-faced young women greeting us and introducing themselves as Eve and Leah – post-degree 'gap yahs’ who, they tell us, had decided to do something meaningful. They inform us that the tale they’re about to impart is true - mainly. And the 70 or so of us packed into this sold-out and sweaty Theatre Box venue are immediately hooked.
This is a powerful coming of age tale, but it’s as much about the audience as it is about these two young women.
Suddenly we’re with them on the train to Calais, as the girls played by Francesca Bloor and Valerie Smith pull-off perfectly synced wheel-turning choreography. Arriving at the detention centre, they are greeted with shocking human degradation and are thrown into eight hour shifts of pan washing and personal hygiene kit collation. Life - but not as we know it - is brutally and pictorially described by the girls. Leah confirms that feminism is now a luxury, here the fight for a breath is the first thing on everyone’s lips. This is the jungle and it’s all about survival. But this ugliness is made bearable for audience consumption as Accalia perfectly balances it with the entertaining delivery and witty asides from the two girls: swooning over an Aussie volunteer and laughing about Leah’s helicopter mum, all done using minimal props plucked from a coat stand at the back of the stage. Eve and Leah then introduce us to their 12-year-old friend, Jamal, a refugee who hangs around them (appealingly played by Smith) and who sees England as his path to salvation. This endearing narrative draw us in closer, as tragedy slowly begins to unfurl.
But the real tragedy of this tragicomedy is that this situation is a tragedy for all: the truck driver who just wants to get home, the misguided volunteers who think they’re making a difference, but most of all for the refugees who are held like animals behind the bars and amongst the stinking, festering rubbish heaps of their French zoo. It’s an ugliness too horrible to stomach and Leah and Eve ultimately can’t - their abandonment being representative of our own. Life is so much more pleasant when we can ignore the news reports (entertainingly portrayed by the girls) and console ourselves that 20 miles plus of sea separates this human suffering from our own comfortable existence.
With White Girls, Accalia seeks to remind us of this inconvenient truth and Bloor and Smith are totally convincing as the two ‘gap yahs’. These actors adroitly pull-off the naivety and simplicity of youth, framed with a heartfelt integrity. This is a powerful coming of age tale, but it’s as much about the audience as it is about these two young women. Accalia is seeking to convince us all to grow up and face harsh realities. It’s a sobering education but an entirely worthwhile one.