Coming-of-age stories have been told countless times throughout history, as the concept of following someone on their journey to adulthood is something that almost anyone can relate to. Manchester Girl, a one-woman play written by, codirected by, and starring Sue Turner-Cray, invites us to take this journey with Sara Taylor, an English teenager in the ‘80s who dreams of escaping her small-town existence and seeing the world.
Sara’s dream soon comes true, and she is whisked from England all the way to Japan as a fashion model. Her life is filled with glamorous photo shoots and endless adventure, but she soon learns that growing up comes with certain costs. While Manchester Girl might not be adding anything particularly revolutionary to the coming-of-age genre, the brutal honesty in Turner-Cray’s writing and acting make the play a rousing success.
Turner-Cray puts many talents on display here, but it is undoubtedly her acting that stands out. She portrays every character in the play, which seems like a gimmick that might grow old fast, but watching her seamlessly transform from Sara’s Japanese-Peruvian lover Fernando to the middle-aged, obese Doreen in only a few seconds turns out to be an absolute delight. Still, it’s her incredibly portrayal of Sara, a character full of depth, contradictions, and confusion, that steals the show.
Perhaps the only real weakness here are some of the directing choices, such as the terrible transitions that feature Sara awkwardly dancing to different songs and seem to have no real purpose except reminding the audience what decade the play is set in.
Ultimately, Manchester Girl avoids feeling cliché due to its willingness to be much more than a cautionary tale. Instead, the play serves as a powerful reminder of how much a person is shaped by the obstacles and choices they face every day. Sara’s transformation from innocent, childish girl to independent, bold woman does not happen overnight, and Turner-Cray masterfully grants us insight into that complex, fascinating story.