The one-woman show challenging what it means to be a Girl Boss.
By Claudia Bradley
Belles strides into the room with a punchy immediacy that parts the wisps of smoke drifting across the stage, which was intimately dim moments before. The room lit up with her presence, sharp and bright like her character. Without hesitation, she tells the story of grappling with a Disney princess and losing her job and her status in one, with equal parts sarcasm and profanity. She’s already seemingly at rock bottom, with a hopeless outlook and “crusty pees” littering the bedsheets she’d rather stay nestled within. There’s a reason why Belles is introduced to us in this way: it sets the tone that her life is not a fairytale, not perfect, and certainly not fit for a bedtime story.
Emma-Louise Howell, the writer and actress, filled the complex dialogue with witty remarks about a mother’s disappointment, different types of girls, and men and women and society. It’s obvious why she’s an award-winning writer, and why the Mercury Theatre chose to make this ‘Mercury Original’ her debut. She achieved her goal of challenging the ideas of a Girl Boss through Belles’ disastrous attempt at being one. There were a hundred references to Gen Z and pop culture so that at least half of them were bound to land with the audience, who did indeed find many moments to laugh.
“A hair-pulling, fake-nail scratching, cat-fight against what it means to be a Girl Boss.”
As Belles is encouraged to take an opportunity to change her life, she falls into the world of social media, promotion and popularity. Visual effects display Belles’ choices, as with when she ‘Levels’ up, picking between ‘Player’ options of which female archetype she can most use to her advantage. She attempts to emulate other Girl Bosses she sees online and studies the game of manipulation. The three screens set up across the stage and the microphone she used, the work of lighting tech Martha Godfrey and sound by Holly Khan, loudly convey social media’s role in Belles’ story. Sound and video supported the lone actress through various parts of the performance, as expected, yet clips of Shrek in his swamp were surprising and had a punctual comedic timing.
The female-led production team for the world premiere of this show is half comprised of neurodiverse creatives, and they have a focus on engaging better with neurodiverse audiences. I Really Do Think This Will Change Your Life has been described as part of a “new age of theatre”, using immersive digital technologies and creative captioning (designed by Matt Powell) that displays emojis, memes, and GIFs. This lends the show to a refreshing, modern feel with its inclusivity, and director Hetty Hodgson worked harmoniously to share Howell’s vision.
Howell explores the loss of identity in the social media world when Belles is unable to hang on to hers. The microphone distorts her voice and she stops and starts, like a wound-up doll falling apart at the seams, when the truth of Belles money-making schemes is revealed online. She despairs and retreats to her bed again, so that when the show closes, Belles is in the same place as when we met her, except she is still gripped in the false world of social media.
Belles’ struggle to maintain her authenticity reflects the damage consumption of the wrong media can do, and how a person can change for the worst. The set features three mirrors so Belles is forced to look at herself, until in the end, she turns them all away from her. Howell examines the false idea of a textbook Girl Boss, and how this is perpetuated through the inherent duplicity that comes with social media. The visage of a woman realising all her dreams in one hand and crushing the patriarchy in the other, might not be true—while her online presence leaves other women wondering “How can I be like you?!”
Belles does indeed go on a journey, learning to be motivated again and accept herself while a dubious money-making scheme profits off this very growth. But Belles’ response to her hardships is to lie further, and to manipulate women who were in the same struggle she started in even as they become wise to the scheme. Belles learns how social media can make or break a person and how to influence the masses, which she uses to her advantage down to the last line. In the end, I Really Do Think This Will Change Your Life is a warning, disguised by lively wit and colour, about how social media can do exactly that.