Much has already been written about Taylor Swift's particular brand of feminism and popstar appeal. On the surface she seems genuine and relatable, singing songs of bullying and young love that immediately click with her young fans. But is this all narcissistic? When she connects directly with fans, is it only to boost her own image? Is it even possible to be simultaneously grounded and a flawless pop icon? And how does this star-fan relationship affect the psychology of her fans?
These themes are the focus of Swifties, a loose adaptation of Jean Genet's The Maids that sees two girls idolising Taylor Swift to the point of fetish. Whilst waiting at a meet and greet competition, the girls play out some strange fantasy where they get to become "Tay" - singing her songs, mimicking her style, and re-enacting her life. Yet this eventually devolves into a bizarre rape/murder fantasy involving Swift's (now ex-lover) Calvin Harris and a plot to kill Swift that inevitably goes wrong. The girls are highly unpredictable as they flit between sweet friendship and nastiness. Is this meant to reflect the sort of relationships young girls have with one another? And is this really the fault of Taylor Swift?
Between them, the girls represent two extremes of feminism. One seems brainwashed by the niceties of Swift's generosity and longs to be part of her "squad"; the other is more radical and violent in her approach.
Yet both come across as immature and irritating, meaning what's meant to be a chilling and profound piece of theatre is just silliness. The cartoonish acting of Isabella Niloufar and Tanya Cubric - whether intentional or not - undermines any semblance of sincerity, whilst Tom Stenton's script clunkily steers the drama with the finesse of a GCSE drama improvisation. It leaves these two girls as wholly unlikable and the audience either amused or bemused by their psychological drama.
Two sweet young girls drawn to terrible things by their adoration of a popstar. They're a nightmare dressed like a daydream, but for all the play's lofty aspirations we're simply left with a blank space, baby.
Watch: Swifties runs at Theatre N16 until March 11th.
Photo: Luke Davies