On the Bodily Education of Young Girls

Director Adena Jacobs unfortunately misfires with this inert, sluggish piece of abstract theatre.
On the Bodily Education of Young Girls

Director Adena Jacobs unfortunately misfires with this inert, sluggish piece of abstract theatre, which clearly has lofty ambitions yet hasn’t realised them in any tangible way.

The 1903 novella Mine-Haha, or On the Bodily Education of Young Girls, would seem like an ideal source of rich, theatrical inspiration. By noted dramatist Frank Wedekind (best known as the writer of Spring Awakening), it is written in the style of an autobiographical manuscript, detailing the experiences of a child, Hidalla, who grows up in a strange, sealed boarding school, is trained in dance and gymnastics, and must perform nightly in a pantomime of an adult nature (a situation she doesn’t entirely understand).

The novella’s vaguely ominous subject matter and ever-present sense of threat should have provided director Adena Jacobs and her cast with plenty of meat in which to sink their teeth. It’s strange, then, that this production of On the Bodily Education of Young Girls should be so toothless.

The hour-long play consists of nine teenage girls being physically active – warming up at the barre, running repetitive ballet drills, re-enacting medieval murders – in near-silence, watched over by a handful of adult women. There’s the awkward sense when watching that the cast and director have tried to create a sense of dread, but haven’t managed it – the intent of the work simply doesn’t transfer into genuine emotional communication.

There’s a fine, almost imperceptible line between theatre that is abstract, and theatre that is inaccessible. Jacobs has clearly sought to create something that falls within the former category – her liner notes suggest that she views the work as a ‘theatrical poem’ – but in practice, Bodily Education belongs firmly in the latter camp.

Is anyone good in this play? It’s difficult to say – the actors barely make eye contact with one another, simply rearranging themselves about the stage in ever-changing configurations as they work their way through endless plies and arabesques.

Jacobs is no stranger to creating difficult yet compelling theatre; her Persona was one of the highlights of 2012. However, Bodily Education feels difficult for difficulty’s sake, and fails to compel. Rather than hold a mirror up to the audience’s lives and thoughts, the play is a murky pond – there doesn’t seem to be anything to see, and anything you might glimpse is too distant and vague to make out.

Rating: 1 ½ stars out of 5

On the Bodily Education of Young Girls


Inspired by the novella by Frank Wedekind

Director – Adena Jacobs
Dramaturgy – Aaron Orzech
Set Design – Dayna Morrissey
Composer – Kelly Ryall
Lighting Design – Danny Pettingill
Costume Design – Chloe Greaves
Associate Artist – Pia Johnson

Cast: Mika Andrew, Fantine Banulski, Bianca Coppa, Tove Due, Luisa Hastings Edge, Cindy Hu, Annie McKenna-Freeman, Lois Scott, Karen Sibbing, Carla Tilley, Artemis Wilson


Part of the MTC’s Neon Festival of Independent Theatre

The Lawler, Southbank Theatre

30 May – 9 June


Aleksia Barron

Wednesday 5 June, 2013

About the author

Aleksia is a Perth-grown, Melbourne-transplanted writer and critic who suffers from an incurable addiction to theatre, comedy and screen culture.