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Posted: October 27, 2021

The Shape of a Girl reveals underbelly of young society

By Erin Knutson

Cranbrook Community Theatre’s The Shape of Girl examines the bullying culture that exists in the lives of young girls, as Braidie (played by Cheyanne Kneller and Jelena Jensen) reflects on a troubled past in this one-woman show based on the work of award-winning playwright Joan MacLeod.

MacLeod authored a piece nearly two decades ago that still holds significant weight as violence, bullying, cyber-bullying, and the harassment of young people have not only culminated in the murder but the suicide of its victims.

She was inspired by the story of Reena Virk, who in 1997 was lured, beaten, and drowned by a group of peers; this act of depravity, shocked the nation and shed light on the underbelly of the social structure and hierarchy prevalent in many high school settings.

Director Amy Penney, the cast and crew do a brilliant job conveying this world through an expressive set and lighting design (Eve Sperling and Sanjay Fisk) while using a backdrop of images, newspaper clippings, and audio depicting the murder coverage of Virk.

Scene transitions are signalled with loud and jarring audio effects (Cameron Sperling). These transitions are unsettling to the viewer and create a feeling of unease appropriate for the subject matter.

Braidie reflects on her own story in a letter to her older brother Trevor and scrutinizes a peer murder trial similar to Virk’s story.

Armed with a tense relationship with her mother and alienated from her core group of friends and a guilty conscience, she sees the similarities between the girls on trial, Virk’s murder, and her peer group.

Furthermore, Braidie has a realization that the bullying and violence witnessed in her girl group are not dissimilar to that of the actions of Virk’s killers and her classmates on trial for murder.

At times Braidie relishes her in-group’s antics, revealing in her own monstrous nature as is reflected in MacLeod’s signature phrase, “a girl in the shape of a monster, and a monster in the shape of a girl.”

Girl and monster are inextricably linked and cut from the same cloth like a reversible sweater.

The question that remains as the audience listens in shock and repulsion when Braidie reveals the more distasteful actions and sentiments of her and ringleader Adrienne’s actions in their own lives is why?

What compels this hierarchy of suffering, and has it become a right of passage?

Braidie addresses this hierarchy of judgment which starts young.

“If you put me in a room right now filled with girls my age that I’ve never seen before, I could divide them up and decide who goes where and where I fit in without anyone opening their mouths, they could be from this island, they could be from Taiwan – it doesn’t matter, and it’s been that way since grade fucking two.”

As the audience sits passively, helplessly witnessing the indifference Braidie reveals in her monologues toward their disturbing behaviour, it resembles and creates the experience of a culture that stands by and witnesses murder, or in this event, by doing nothing consents to the phenomenon of bullying, aggression, and destruction of lives.

The graphic nature of the images created by photography/projection designer Stephanie Moore-Milne contrasts nicely against Kneller’s poignant performance on stage.

Kneller handled the show with grace, never faltering from the gritty material during a sneak peek preview attended by dignitaries and patrons on Wednesday, Oct. 20, before its official opening on Oct. 22.

It was the first of two shows offered that evening, with Jensen scheduled shortly after in a second performance.

The experience was a disturbing and profound engagement that evocatively pulled at the heartstrings and consciences of the audience. The Shape of a Girl rings true, and as Penney writes in her director’s message: “I’m hoping that through Braidie’s story, audiences will reflect on their own lives and their own experiences with bullying. I hope everyone leaves the show with a determination to make a change in their own aggressive behaviours and to help those who are vulnerable.”

The production was dedicated to Reena Virk, who was murdered by her peers in 1997 at 14.

Further performances are scheduled on Oct. 28, 29, 30 – for more details, please visit Cranbrook Community Theatre | HOME | Cranbrook BC |Theatre

Lead and above images: Cheyanne Kneller featured as Braidie in The Shape of a Girl at the Cranbrook Community Theatre. Photos by Erin Knutson

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