Students who live on the edge in ‘The Sex Lives of College Girls’

Presented by Julien Temple, Jeremy Brock and Channel 4, The Sex Lives of College Girls now on at the Tricycle Theatre London

Looking at young women in their early 20s, they have something common in common; the millions of women who have been here before. The naked intimacy of their situations and predicament is as revealing as their desire to find the next sensation. And that sensation is of increasingly naked self-reflection, tempered by heightened, personal acts of awe, shame and public shame. It is the sort of situation that has made so many a film or television programme dependent on a sense of how a body looks from the outside in. That these adolescent girls find such an honest and truthful place is a testament to the youth of their talent and a confidence in this subject matter.

Four women in their 20s, are made of a certain confidence and experience. But they are so different in their lives that the a common journey, along for the ride, is every young woman’s.

We meet three of the four, coming out of university. Gwen feels like a case of ‘those guys’. She is shy and insecure, cautious and neurotic, yet also a confident and accomplished young woman, the expert on every topic from medieval pugs and the history of British taste to the exact destinies of Hitler and the Attlee government. She knows she is a flawed person but she can’t stop herself worrying about it, breaking down in self-recrimination in a sweatshop in south London, in real-time. Even as she talks about her anxiety, she is constantly removing her clothes, so we see her bare bits and her body.

Rosie is a teenager from the suburbs who is painfully lonely, a timid tomboy whose best friend is the only girl who could fit her into any category that Gwen likes. And now, alone with her thoughts, she is angry, fiercely cruel, sad and young, almost fragile, she seems to be saying.

Mabel is a sexed-up hippy from the big smoke who has made her peace with the evils of boys and sex, but only because she is to find herself in yet another slightly-too-good-to-be-true relationship. She has ambitions to get her first in the Hamptons, only to discover that the bitchiness of Londoners in their 20s means there are no girls her age who ‘get it’. Yet she is also looking for a resolution to her sex life, her self-consciousness and the sometimes social humiliation of living and socialising in the big smoke, seen through a thick haze of pickles and chocolates.

To these two stands up aspiring writer Iris. At 23, she has become a veteran of the student mill. She has been taught to dress in opaque black tights and high heels by the same sex, first her mother and then her father. She dresses like a man, she has been banned from dressing like a woman and even if she could, she wouldn’t. Iris is as much interested in sex as she is a book. ‘What I have noticed about my students,’ she tells Gwen, ‘is that what strikes me as horrifying to them is our fear of sex.’ In an effort to overcome this fear, she gets into a session of massage with a woman, to which she wears a low cut top and high heels but it is still as horrific as it is painful.

Each girl’s life is revealed not only in their public image, but in their private lives and lives before their public image. The Sex Lives of College Girls is a coming-of-age comedy, warts and all, with narrative driven by its four adolescent lives that are not as different as they might seem. These are ‘real’ girls who actually exist and fall in love, to death, and return with casualties, wins, places, money and regrets. And in the midst of this we see how the new flesh, exposed to all, betrays the oldest of fears and symbols.

Julien Temple is the pen name of Arne Soderstrom, the Swedish choreographer and director who co-wrote, co-produced and co-directed this drama series, which charts the major life events of four young women in their 20s. Poised on the brink of adulthood, they embark on their journey to find their place. The show was made for Channel 4 by creator Jeremy Brock, who also penned the script. He also directed The Full Monty, and Hackney Empire, and executive produced Two Days, in which Sheridan Smith played Marilyn Monroe for the BBC.

The Sex Lives of College Girls is on now at the Tricycle Theatre London, London ([email protected]).

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