Madeleine Accalia’s White Girls provides a savvy and intelligent look at the Calais migrant crisis through the angle of voluntourism. Managing to successfully amuse and deliver heavyweight emotional blows, White Girls is an impressive theatrical piece.
Eva and Leah are two young girls who decide to venture to Calais to help with the migrant crisis during their post-university, pre-employment gap-year. The girls see the human consequences of the decisions made by the powers that be and find themselves more invested than they initially anticipated.
Accalia’s narrative and skilled performances from Francesca Bloor and Valerie Smith suggest that White Girls may be quite critical of its wide-eyed, initially over-zealous protagonists who very much feel like they are blindly heading for short-term support without much thought. Yet as the narrative progresses from Eva and Leah hoping to spite their Conservative parents, White Girls draws us into the fold emotionally as the pair get invested in the problems and lives of the migrants at Calais. Whilst this is a two-hander with the actresses mainly playing Eva and Leah, Bloor and Smith dip in an out of various supporting roles throughout, transporting us to ‘Jungle’ camp and building a world with conviction and confidence.
These rich performances – particularly Smith as Jamal, a 12 year old migrant who dreams of seeking asylum in the UK – draw us into the fold emotionally and capture a sense of the human lives that are at stake by the political choices our nations make. Yet White Girls does deliver some emotive blows at audiences exploring our failure to take action. Smith is fiery and heartfelt in this moment which will undoubtedly leave many of us feeling a twinge of guilt, thanks to the humanity that Accalia packs into her narrative.
Much of the heart of White Girls is found in Bloor and Smith’s performances – the pair have a convincing chemistry as the best friends sharing a life-changing experience. There is a synchronicity in these performances with the actresses playing the roles with a confident, enthusiastic energy. As the narrative progresses with a moment of hard-hitting tragedy (based on real events) and our protagonists return to the UK we see their struggle to adapt to a conventional life – leading to their return to France. Events are similarly intense upon their return, allowing Bloor and Smith to further invest us emotionally and explore the unjust treatment of migrants faced with police brutality and bureaucratic inadequacy.
Yet White Girls is also highly amusing – it plays with the stereotype of the ‘white girl’ social justice warrior, yet adds a sense of depth and complexity to this stereotype as the narrative progresses. Bloor and Smith have a fun comic energy and amusingly bounce off each other, while Accalia’s narrative allows lighter moments of fun from musical interludes to dance breaks.
White Girls delivers some fantastic comic moments and some striking emotional blows, leaving audiences with much to the think about. This is an exciting and fresh piece of theatre.