Theatre review: Girls in Boys’ Cars, National Theatre of Parramatta

Two young women on a road trip in Western Sydney. What could possibly go wrong?
Girls in Boys' Cars. Image is two young women, one with shoulder length hair grinning and wearing a blue short sleeved shirt and the other looking off to the right in sunglasses and headscarf. They are seated behind a block, representing a car.

Girls in Boys’ Cars is a theatrical adaptation of the novel by Felicity Castagna that won both the Queensland and Victoria Literary Awards for Young Adults. Based in Western Sydney, the premiere of this contemporary coming-of-age production has been given a highly stylised treatment by renowned director and dramaturg, Priscilla Jackman.

Girls in Boys’ Cars is the story of two teenagers experiencing their own internal resistance to the societal expectations that come along with being a girl.

Rosa’s parents and school teachers think she’s good and studious. She is quiet, nerdy and bookish. Asheeka is sassy and brash. Her mother doesn’t care how she does in school, as long as she finds and marries an Indian boy. She’s done the right thing; she has found Arnold. Asheeka is sure she can put up with his jealousy and violent outbursts – after all, it’s just because he cares! 

One late night at North Parramatta Maccas the two girls meet. The nature of their accidental friendships evolves as their shared dissatisfaction incites them to act. They give each other the courage to take risks and break out, with their release involving stealing a car, beating up a police officer and going on the adventure of a lifetime.

Rosa, played by Ziggy Resnick, is a mousy girl, who never quite inhabits an external power, but effectively communicates her internalised anger at being summarised by the external gaze. Asheeka, played by Nikita Waldron, is strong and sassy, embodying a restrained violence at her own experience of helplessness.

The diverse casting of the play is a tribute to the vision of the creative team and National Theatre of Parramatta, which continues to cast in a way that reflects the community of Parramatta on stage and in the creative teams. The ensemble works well together. The supporting cast move deliberately and without pause from one role to another, using their physicality, small costume changes and props to signal their transitions.

However, the cohesion between the players and the text still feels laboured and the transitions somewhat forced. The overall impression is that more rehearsal time would have helped to establish the organic rhythm of the play and the chemistry between the players. Whether the issue is with the dialogue or the performers isn’t clear. The mechanics of the piece are too visible and draw attention to themselves as opposed to the story drawing us in completely.

Within the text of the play, the narrative itself is hard to follow for the first third of the performance. Those who have not read the book may struggle, as there is insufficient time spent establishing the scene and the characters. So, without the benefit of costumes or sufficient situational exposition it is a guessing game to identify the characters, their relationships to each other and what is happening. This confusion is exacerbated by the non-linear telling of the narrative, together with temporal and locational leaps. 

The strongest point of this production is the symphony of onstage interactions created by production designer, Melanie Liertz, lighting designer, Morgan Moroney and multimedia designer Mark Bolotin. The Lennox Theatre at Parramatta Riverside never fails to impress in terms of its creativity in design and originality of thought.

Read: Theatre review: Twelfth Night, Sydney Opera House

The subject matter, structure and premise of the play lends itself to a high school audience. The actors just need time to find cohesion between the script, delivery and choreography of scene changes. Nevertheless Girls in Boys’ Cars still maintains an honesty and an open heart that lures the audience in and leaves you believing in the girls’ ability to seize their agency from a society in which cultural norms and gender roles are still habitually predetermined.

Girls in Boys’ Cars by Felicity Castagna

National Theatre of Parramatta
Adapted and Directed by Priscilla Jackman
Associate Director: Lucy Clements
Production Designer: Melanie Liertz
Sound Designer: Zac Saric
Lighting Designer: Morgan Moroney
Multimedia Designer: Mark Bolotin
Dramaturg: Brittanie Shipway
Production Associate: Hannah Crane
Stage Manager: Jaime Petersen
Fight Choreographer: Tim Dashwood
Intimacy Coordinator: Bayley Turner

Cast: Ziggy Resnick, Nikita Waldron, Suz Mawer, Ella Prince, Alex Stamell

Girls in Boys’ Cars will be performed until 3 November 2023.

Christina is a freelance writer and multidisciplinary artist. The 2021 Program Officer for The Writing Zone and a junior editor at the Sydney Review of Books. She is the Associate Producer at WestWords and the founder of Writing Black Australia, an online platform for the amplification of Black Australian Literary Work. A graduate of the UOW Creative Writing Program, her area of research is in framing the African diasporic voice of contemporary Australian literature.