Maria Ferguson – Essex Girl – at Seven Artspace on 26 September

Essex Girl is an hilarious, raw and nostalgic one-woman show that took me straight back to my adolescent life of push-up bras and WKD. 

I visited Seven Arts to watch ‘Essex Girl’, performed and written by Maria Ferguson. The venue was quaint, cosy and added an intimate feel to the overall show.  I felt as though I was the only person in the room and Maria was telling me all about Kirsty’s life…..   

Maria’s detailed descriptions of the setting, the characters and the various situations were as clear as if there was a full cast on stage, and we in the audience each connected with the individual characters she served up as the food for our imaginations, each dish with its own fascinating flavour.  

Although I’m not personally an Essex Girl, the nostalgia I felt throughout the performance was surreal. Maria plays the part of Kirsty, a 16-year-old girl growing up in a working-class area, attending a Catholic all-girls school. She lets us into Kirsty’s life – and bedroom – using an extremely minimalistic set – a blow up chair, a bottle of WKD, a panda bear – and the rest is up to us.  Maria recreates the many nights of fake ID’s and spinning around on a computer chair drinking white stripe with the juxtaposition of discussing important issues of gender and sexual harassment, as a teenage girl growing up in Essex.  

The anecdotes she tells throughout the play seem light-hearted and relatable….. until they’re not.  Essex Girl tunes into the harsh reality of being a teenage girl, with the pressure of stereotypes and expectations on her shoulders. The show is highly intertwined with issues of gender and class, which made me reflect upon my own experiences. 

 We’re shown the real brutality of being expected to wear fake tan and skin tight dresses, to impress men who end up calling girls sluts and whores.  Instead of simply being the child that she is, Kirsty experiences a series of negative  episodes; from her school teacher inappropriately texting and calling her with the ‘heavy breathing,’  to ‘sexy Ricky’, a 24 year old man calling her an old soul who is mature for her age. The way Maria portrays the scenarios allows the audience to perceive each encounter from a naive 16-year old’s perspective. We feel uncomfortable with the way she justifies the behaviour of older men, which is something that may resonate with many women and their variously vague and not so vague memories of being a teenage girl.   

Although I didn’t grow up in Essex myself, I saw a lot of similarities between myself and Kirsty’s teenage years, some of which had me howling with laughter, as Maria Ferguson enthralled the audience with her reduction of the fourth wall and hilarious presence on stage. She is an extremely talented actor (and singer), who convincingly portrayed a wide spectrum of emotions through her performance.  

Kirsty comes from a place of fake tan and mini skirts, white stilettos and highlights, home of the “CHAV”, council estates, the BNP and make-up caked on to skin that never needed it.

If you’re interested in learning exactly what it was like to grow up in late 20th century Essex and no doubt much of the UK, Maria Ferguson and her Essex Girl will give you an hilarious, raw and sometimes poignant insight which will stay long in the memory and raise a smile in years to come.

I cannot recommend this show highly enough.  It’s an important contribution to the voice of gender and sexism in the modern world – with a unique and engaging approach which will resonate with all millennials. 

All photographs by Stella Sheibenzuber, who is working in Leeds with photographer Mark Wheelwright under the Erasmus programme.

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