It’s the 503rd season of Girl World, a reality-TV show fading into insignificance. With ratings in decline, the producers are advised to take on whatever means necessary in order to revive the program. Netflix’s much-talked-about series Squid Game is referenced, with Girl World’s figureheads desperate to beef up the challenges – and challengers – of their game.

The premise of SAYarts’ Girl World is an appealing one: The Handmaid’s Tale meets Lord of the Flies with a modern backdrop. Unfortunately, it doesn’t land the punches it tries to set up. Early scenes of contestants being pulled from various settings feel wooden – they’re too long to allow the audience to be swept up in the immediacy of the game and its implications, yet too fast for an adequate chance to connect with characters in a meaningful way.

Some aspects of the production can be forgiven for having a Fringe budget, but small moments distract the audience from the performances. Video content is overlapped with on-stage dialogue, there are lighting miscues, and at some points the video becomes out of sync with the script – such as during an arm-wrestling contest where the winner is announced on screen just as the actors begin.

Sadly, a work dedicated to exploring the limitations of gender rarely sways from the binary. When one character does come out as non-binary, they rely on a misappropriated First Nations term for their announcement, which is wholly unnecessary. And while the show works to eschew gendered expectations, it doesn’t address the violence such expectations often result in ­– towards women, trans and non-binary people and people of colour.

There are moments of interest and humour, such as a character used to poke fun at YouTubers, but too often the jokes feel laboured or under-developed. The script is pointed in its critique of gendered entertainment such as Married at First Sight and The Bachelor/ette. However, there is a missed opportunity to make a statement about platforms like TikTok and Snapchat, which are surely more relevant for a young ensemble.

Girl World tries to say some big things about the future of gender, but despite the enthusiasm of the performers, it ultimately falls short.

Girl World is at Rumpus until February 27.

Read more 2022 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews here.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.