It is fair to say that I was not a natural actress. Enthusiastic, certainly – and really good at learning lines. But quite awful. (I am at peace with this now).
This did not stand in the way of getting cast in such illustrious roles as “chorus: supporting ant”, “smallest mole” and, of course, “shampoo bottle 4”.
There were, as you may have guessed, four of us playing the part of anthropomorphised toiletries. We wore enormous, hand painted, sandwich-board style outfits, with coloured coordinated tights and matching sparkly wigs. It was A Look.
The play was called “Mag Zine” and it was quite, quite mad. It was about THE EVILS OF TEEN MAGAZINES, which is a flawed premise because literally everybody knows that Just Seventeen was Literally The Best Thing Ever. (It’s easy to be dismissive of things that teenage girls like because teenage girls like them, but teenage girls are ACE and we do them a disservice. My nearly-teenage-niece came to London this weekend and she is THE BEST and I had an absolute blast hanging out with her).
As I say, a flawed premise. But beyond that, there is one very specific reason that it was a spectacularly misguided choice for our school drama club.
There are four main characters in Mag Zine:
- Mag Zine (a magazine)
- First girl whose name I can’t remember, whose defining quality is that she doesn’t have a boyfriend
- Second girl whose name I can’t remember, whose defining quality is that she is poor
- Third girl whose name I can’t remember, whose defining quality is that she is black
My school was so white. Whiter than white. There was one mixed-race boy in the year below me, but it was otherwise the whitest place you can imagine.
This did not deter my drama teacher.
She simply cast a white girl.
The play had some fair points to make about the lack of representation for black girls in beauty articles – and fifteen years down the line I don’t think we’re doing much better. (See wonderful Bim Adewumni’s recent Buzzfeed article if you want to read better writing than mine about this).
And, if a black girl had played that character, the play would still have been quite absurd, but at least it would not have been horrifically offensive. As it is, I can barely believe we went ahead.
We shampoo bottles were meant to be trying to convince the black girl that she should use us to transform her hair into sleek waves. But, just to reiterate, WE HAD CAST A WHITE GIRL. A white girl with very shiny, subtly wavy, sleek sleek hair.
In another scene, the character bemoans the fact that she can never find makeup to match her skin tone. Her peaches and cream, white white white skin tone.
WHAT WAS THE TEACHER THINKING? There are literally thousands of other plays we could have performed instead. Why did she think it was appropriate to go ahead with one so enormously missuited to our school? I have thought about this a lot over the years and I continue to find it baffling.
For a smooth smooth wave, say hi to Sheen, and wave bye bye to bad night-hair dreams!