When I heard about the Vault Festival, I was really intrigued to find out more as it is London’s answer to Edinburgh Fringe, and takes place over the space of three months.

Vault is jam-packed with theatre performances, comedy shows and immersive experiences taking place in Waterloo. So, I checked what was on offer as I love intimate theatre performances, and came across a play called Essex Girl, written and performed by actress Maria Ferguson who has also written a book called Fat Girls Don’t Dance. The play is about 16-year-old Kirsty who lives in Essex in the 2000s. It tells the audience of the trials and tribulations of growing pains and trying to step away from the stereotype of an ‘Essex girl’ through Ferguson’s one-woman monologue.

Kirsty lives in a bubble where she knows full well that she will always be defined by the place she comes from; known for girls being covered in fake tan, Sugar Hut (Essex’s answer to Central Perk in US comedy Friends) and EU Leave voters. Such stereotypes are unhelpful, to say the least, which is why I wanted to understand the real people behind a place like Essex.

First, Kirsty paints a picture to the audience of how Essex girls are viewed as ‘fair game’ to their male counterparts because of how they are misrepresented in the media. She tells us about her group of friends who seem to want to party all the time, her crush Ricky who has Guns N’ Roses bed sheets but seems to ignore her by and large, and how she feels insecure next to her best friend who is blonde and skinny. However, Kirsty wants to do so much more with her life, such as attend college to study music and fine-tune her singing so she can get the part of Liesl in The Sound of Music. Her friends don’t understand her and she quickly realizes that she will inevitably face hardships along the road because of her background.

Ferguson’s character reminds many of us of our teenage selves. She admits to the audience that she drinks and smokes while being underage, and uses a fake I.D. Ricky, her crush, can be that love interest shown in most teenage films where the cool guy whose popular with all the girls ends up having a more vulnerable side which he only shows to a select few that understand him. This is apparent when he calls Kirsty an ‘old soul’, something that confuses her as she fights for his attention. And like many teenagers, she too values her self-worth according to her crush liking her or not. But this carefree party lifestyle that Kirsty is living is interrupted by one disturbing incident which she quickly forgets about. The incident takes place at a house party where she gets drunk while trying to impress Ricky. She runs upstairs because she feels nauseous and accidentally walks into a bedroom where she sees a male friend with a girl under suspicious circumstances. The male friend tells her that he was just ‘tucking the girl in, as she is tired’ but she senses that is not the full story. After finally finding a bathroom, she cleans herself up and really looks at herself in the mirror, asking who she is as a person and whether life will work out for her.

Vault Festival: Go See 'Essex Girl', you won't regret it

As the play unfolds, Kirsty tells us more about the trials and tribulations of being a millennial teen growing up in the early 2000s. Her story and experiences will be familiar to many millennial who are now in their twenties and late thirties. That sense of anxiety about the future, but also the guilt over not taking action when you sensed that something bad happened. This current generation, through movements such as #MeToo would unlikely keep quiet if they saw what Kirsty saw, and that is already something to be optimistic about.

For me, Essex Girl was reminiscent of how young women usually have to go through much growing pains before they become themselves. Men and boys around them may take advantage of their innocence, the same way Ricky keeps getting close to Kirsty but then pulls back when he sees more ‘viable’ options. The play also takes you back to when you were young and had many dreams of becoming someone outstanding — something that can disappear with age.

All in all, I feel that Essex Girl is a universal story that anyone can relate too whether you are from Liverpool or live in a small village in Surrey!

You can find out more about Vault Festival here — https://vaultfestival.com 

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