Around 10 years ago a group of schoolgirls in upstate New York started behaving oddly, all 24 of them mirroring each other’s weird movements in a case which sparked fascination, fear and national headlines.
Now this strange true story has inspired a piece of cutting-edge dance theatre for younger audiences, which arrives at Eden Court in Inverness on Tuesday May 3 ahead of a run at the acclaimed Edinburgh International Children’s Festival.
The Hope River Girls, from award-winning theatre company groupwork, holds up a mirror to today’s society, reflecting themes such as media, mental health and coming of age in a blend of explosive choreography and cutting-edge storytelling.
Finn Den Hertog, co-director of groupwork with choreographer Vicki Manderson, hopes the end result will help its young audience discover the thrill of live theatre while seeing their own experience reflected on stage.
Mix of visceral choreography, film work and a driving soundtrack
“It’s a mix of very visceral, highly physical explosive choreography, with a lot of film work – the design is dominated by a large screen on stage, there’s lots of video projection and a driving soundtrack,” said Finn, adding the work had an almost documentary style of storytelling.
“I hope they will be entertained… it’s also a little bit spooky so I hope they get a little enjoyable scare out of it, too.”
In a world where young people are used to watching content on YouTube on their phones, while sending messages to friends on various social media platforms, Finn hopes the different ways of telling the story on stage will hold their attention.
The Hope River Girls is a reworking of groupwork’s debut piece, The Afflicted, but aimed very much at preteens and teenagers, said Finn.
Commissioned by Imaginate, Scotland’s national organisation for theatre and dance for young people, the show asks why events at the New York school generated so much mistrust as the girls were subject to fierce scrutiny and projected fear by the adult community around them.
Hope River Girls at Eden Court is a metaphor for becoming a teenager
“Our fictional take on it becomes a bit of a metaphor for a kind of coming of age and becoming a teenager. How your body and mind start to feel like they’re not in your control anymore and you’re not quite an adult but no longer a child,” he said.
“It looks that time in young people’s lives through this sort of mystery and slightly supernatural lens.”
Finn would also like to see The Hope River Girls inspire the next generation of not only theatre-goers but also arts practitioners.
“For all of us who work in theatre, myself included, there is that one show we saw when we were younger – maybe we were taken along by the school – that sparked our interest and made us pursue a career in the theatre and arts,” he said.
“If we can be that show for even just one person in the whole tour, then that’s an achievement.
“I hope the audiences find that theatre – which has taken a bit of a dent in the last couple of years – is an exciting, accessible and really engaging art form they want to go back to again and again.”
The Hope River Girls has toured across Scotland since April and will go on to the Lyth Arts Centre in Wick on May 4, then Platform in Glasgow on May 13, before its run at the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival from May 7 to 15.
Information and tickets for Hope River Girls at Inverness and Wick
Finn said there was always the hope that with international delegates visiting the Edinburgh festival, the show might be picked up and taken elsewhere.
“We hope that if it makes an impact on audiences here in Scotland it will have something to say to audiences all around because it does feel like an exciting offer to young audiences.”