Blog: Jane Bradley

The writer reveals the story behind her new play exploring some of the fears and pressures faced by teenage girls

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I’ve always been into bad girls. Whether they’re brought to life on the stage or page, whether I meet them through the small or silver screen, young women with smirks on their faces and rebellion in their hearts always make mine beat faster. I watch Orange is the New Black and know I definitely would’ve ended up as one of Alex Vause’s drug mules. Twenty years after its release, I still idolise Nancy from The Craft. Every time I wear biker boots, I pretend to be Tank Girl. Rebel girls are the queens of my world. Which is why they’re the central focus of my debut play, The Curse, which pays tribute to female-led teen films – from Clueless and Mean Girls to Scream and Urban Legend – while exploring the fears, frustrations and pressures faced by today’s young women.

The Curse tells the story of best friends Char and Lola. They’re sweet sixteen (but not that sweet), and can’t wait for a wild summer now that school’s out forever. But when terrible, inexplicable things start to happen in their town, the girls’ intense friendship faces its most extreme test yet. There’s humour, horror and heartbreak, and Char and Lola – played by local emerging actors Amy Dee (pictured above) and Sophie Dervan – are forever changed by the end.

The Curse was originally developed as a ten-minute short last May, as part of the Women in the Spotlight programme coordinated by local writer development organisation Commonword. Women in the Spotlight aims to support BAME and/or LGBT women writing for the stage – an essential endeavour in an industry, where only 31 per cent of new plays produced in UK theatres are penned by women (an improvement of only 1 per cent over a decade).

Before becoming involved in that project, my usual remit was short stories, with the odd bit of spoken word and storytelling performance thrown in. When it came to writing a stage play, I had zilch. No qualifications, track record or experience. So working with the incredible team at Manchester’s Three Minute Theatre was a brilliant – and very educational! – whirlwind introduction to the mechanics of writing and staging a short production. With lots of support and guidance from director Gina Frost and producer John Topliff, I wrote the original short version of The Curse, with the idea of using traditional horror tropes to convey the turbulent, volatile experiences of teenage girls.

This seemed especially relevant with the release of the 2015 Girls’ Attitudes Survey, which illustrated all too well the ways girls can be damaged and demonised, and highlighted their anger and anxiety at certain aspects of society. Over 80 per cent said adults don’t understand the pressure they’re under. A similar proportion had experienced sexism in the last week alone. Depression and self-harm were among their top concerns. Only half felt safe in their local area, and that’s a percentage that’s falling with each set of stats.

The Curse explores some of these tensions, and it must have struck a chord, because that initial ten-minute version went down an absolute storm. “It’s a stunning piece of work,” said John Topliff. “Very brave and innovative. We knew from the start that it was going to be something special.” With such fantastically positive feedback from the actors, director, producer, and – most importantly – audiences, I set about developing The Curse to full length, to tell Char and Lola’s story in the detail it deserved. In the latest, full-length version, actors Amy and Sophie reprise their original roles, this time supported by additional cast members Joshua Wilkinson and Nathaniel Laydon, who play “lust interests” Danny and Marc.

The cast is small and the staging simple, but – like today’s teenage girls – The Curse is not to be underestimated. It’s funny, fierce and fearless, and I’m so lucky to be working with such an amazing and talented team on my first full-length piece. With a female writer and director, and gender-equal cast, it’s an ideal way to celebrate International Women’s Day this March. See you there?

The Curse is at the Three Minute Theatre, Manchester, 10-12 March

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