Theatre review: Girls and Dolls a stunning but brutal play from Derry Girls writer

Jamie Lee O’Donnell and Jennifer Barry in Girls and Dolls by Lisa McGee
Leona O'Neill


Girls and Dolls

Millennium Forum


IT'S probably the most anticipated work of the year, thanks to the comedy genius of Derry Girls, and because it came from the pen of that hit series' writer, Lisa McGee, Girls and Dolls was always going to be something special.

But anyone seated in the Millennium Forum craving two hours of madcap humour, lighthearted banter and sweet nostalgia that Derry Girls spoon-fed us for weeks would have been bitterly disappointed.

Because Girls and Dolls, starring Derry Girl Jamie Lee O’Donnell and The Young Offenders star Jennifer Barry, although laugh-out-loud hilarious in some parts, is also brutal, dark and very disturbing.

The play, McGee’s first, is set in Derry in 1980. We meet young childhood friends Emma and Clare and are observers as they play in the park, hang around in the Creggan street where they both live, mess about in foul-mouthed Dessie’s shop, visit religious nut Aunt Rita and chain-smoking pensioners Josie and Mags – all played by the pair, dipping in and out of each character with skill and ease.

In the first half we get what we were expecting – foul-mouthed, hilarious and manic antics from all concerned: Aunt Rita and her mad love of Mass; Josie and Maggs offering the masked gunmen holding them hostage digestives with their tea; Dessie roaring at everyone that his shop is neither a library or a museum; the innocence of childhood dreams and friendships.

Trips down memory lane come via a large screen intermittently beaming out familiar theme tunes from the 80s, with only the slightest hint of darkness – dead dogs, obsessive-compulsive mothers and abusive fathers and the like – creeping in to dampen the laughter.

Rick Astley and Madonna blasting over the 1980s radio during the interval lull us into a false sense of security and give no indication of the sheer awfulness and loss of innocence that lies ahead in the second half.

Terrible, unspeakable events unfold that tear the girls' lives apart and bind them together forever. Darkness eventually envelopes the Gerard McCabe-directed piece, with only the slightest hint of light and laughter, as the drama comes to an edge-of-your-seat, heart-pounding, horrifying conclusion.

Hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure, Girls and Dolls is a brutal, gripping, stunning debut play from Lisa McGee, carried brilliantly on the shoulders of the two young actresses.

:: At Millennium Forum until September 20 (; at SSE Arena, Belfast, September 21 and 22 (

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access


Today's horoscope


See a different horoscope: