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Every arts graduate—and the audience at the VAULT Festival last Friday night was almost certainly full of arts graduates—knows someone like Girl 1, the charismatic and infuriating character in Florence Keith-Roach’s new play (she wrote it and also stars in it, as Girl 1). A performance artist who rarely seems to exhibit, a party-goer, drug-taker and inveterate sponger of money for artisanal coffees she can’t afford herself, she hasn’t ever really recovered from her student days, and seems perfectly happy walking dogs for minimum wage and excoriating those of her friends who have chosen to sell out to corporate overlords. Her foil is Girl 2 (played in this production by Amani Zardoe), who takes a much more conventionally responsible approach to adulthood: job, boyfriend, promotion, dinner parties. Between them, they cover the major strategies that people straight out of university tend to adopt in order to survive: narcotics, denial, self-important professionalism.
The fact that they’re nameless suggests a universality to their experiences, and while it’s not exactly true that ketamine or neurotic exercising are everyone’s coping mechanisms of choice, there’s a broadness to the characterisation that allows you to see glimpses of yourself or people you know in the girls’ interactions. Some of this is delivered via brilliantly angsty dialogue, as when Girl 1, bewailing her dormant sex life, tells us that the demographic group most likely to commit a crime is sexually frustrated young men on a sugar-based diet: “I EAT A LOT OF MAOAMS!” she howls into the front row. You can just hear that she knows how ridiculous it is, and also that she’s still, despite her self-consciousness, utterly serious. It rings true for the breathtaking self-absorption of adolescence, and for the odd knowingness that often goes along with it.
The friendship between Girl 1 and Girl 2 is fraught, though. The play is structured as a sequence of chronologically isolated scenes, each one happening (we assume) several months after the last. As the scenes progress, we keep hearing the name “Rose” and eventually piece together enough information to gather that this is a mutual university friend, who died (we never know how) either just before they finished their degrees or just after. When the two girls finally have the showdown that constitutes the play’s climax, one of the accusations thrown about is that they’re only friends because they both knew Rose—when she died, the only thing they had in common disappeared.
And it is a hell of a showdown. It happens at a nightclub (it is, in fact, as we learn, a student night, which horrifies Girl 2) and when Amani Zardoe storms offstage, Florence Keith-Roach is left there, dancing on her own. It’s a truly painful moment, and it stretches and stretches and stretches. You have to keep looking at her: the set is bare, the stage small, there’s nothing else to see. Her face has a look of desperate hopefulness on it: that she’s still cool, that it’s all fine, that she can dance and get drunk alone in a room with these teenagers instead of feeling empty and lost. For a silent moment to be the most eloquent one in a play is impressive. Fortunately the plot doesn’t end there—there is a reconciliation, a tender and awkward and delicate one—but for that moment alone, Eggs is worth the price of admission, and Keith-Roach a playwright (and actress) worth keeping an eye on.
Eggs has finished its run at the VAULT Festival, but the play text is available as part of the Plays From VAULT anthology published by Nick Hern Books.