This new, Australian production is full of energy, passion and girl power!
Presented by Belvoir
Reviewed 27 February 2020
It’s great to see new Australian works being performed, especially one written by a female writer, and with a mostly female production team in what has historically been a very male-dominated industry. Yve Blake’s script and score show a deep understanding of the psyche of many 14 year old girls, and FANGIRLS is essentially the story she wishes she could have heard as a teenager.
Edna, a misfit teen on a full scholarship, on the edge of school society due to the label a scholarship can give: brainy and not wealthy. Edna is madly in love with Harry, pop singer in the band “True Connection” and is convinced that no one loves Harry like she does. The song Nobody shows Edna plus fans all over the world (portrayed on huge screens) wanting to declare their love for Harry. Edna, though teased about her obsession by her school friends, finds acceptance in the online fan fiction community. What follows is a desperate fangirl’s attempt to meet the boy she believes is the love of her life, and consequences that go way out of her control. The story points a criticising finger at the message teen girls are given, not only by mass media but also by society in general: that their only value is in their looks. It is definitely a story for 2021, and one that everyone, teens, young adults and parents alike could all benefit from hearing.
The songs, all in an electronic pop style, are somewhat forgettable, though they move the story forward as any good musical theatre score should. Even though I struggle to remember the tunes now, they were enjoyable to listen to at the time, and the style of music fit the characters and story well.
The staging was exceedingly simple, for the most part consisting of a blank stage with huge screens for the backdrop. The screens were used to show the global fans of True Connection, play various prerecorded news reports, as well as provide scene backdrops. The use of the screens was an effective way to show the vastness of the worldwide fandom, though I wish more of the vocals in these segments were delivered live rather than being prerecorded. It did, however, give the very busy cast a short break between the many characters that most of them portrayed. The set otherwise consisted of simple moveable pieces that represented different locations in a minimalist but effective way. They made for lightning fast scene changes and kept the pace of the show going.
The cast is small, but mighty. Karis Oka plays Edna, a misfit teen. Oka gives Edna a charming vulnerability, showing the teen’s struggles with her relationships with her mother, her friends, and of course the relationship she wants to have with Harry. Oka’s vocals match Edna’s character with a raw speech-like quality much of the time, though there are several moments throughout the show where she really gets to show the audience what her voice can do.
AYDAN, known for his appearances on The Voice, is an excellent choice for superstar Harry, his smouldering looks and stunning vocals causing not just Edna to swoon. He owns the stage convincingly, as a pop star should.
Danielle Barnes plays Edna’s mother with sensitivity, her solo, Brave Thing, touching the heart strings of any mother in the audience. Barnes also shows her versatility, also appearing in ensemble numbers as one of Harry’s fans and altering her voice accordingly for the different characters.
Chika Ikogwe and Shubshri Kandiah, playing school friends Jules and Brianna respectively, play off each other well. They particularly shine in some of the weighty trio moments with Edna later in the show, particularly in Disgusting. Special mention must also go to the vocals of Ayesha Madon, as Lilly, another fan. Though her character part is small, she delivers a great many vocal lines with a mastery of pop stylings, and I would have loved for her voice to have been featured even more.
James Majoos plays a sympathetic Saltypringl, Edna’s online fanfic friend. He offers nothing but support, the staging clearly showing that the two performers are not physically in the same place. His time on stage, and particularly his song Feels So True, is memorable and something to look forward to.
Unfortunately, early on there seemed to be some pitch issues, with one of the early ensemble numbers seeming a little off at times, and several of Ikogwe’s solo moments in the first act struggling to find the key. However, Ikogwe’s rapping and second act vocals were flawless, leaving me to suspect there may have been a foldback issue on opening night. Hopefully this is something that is easily resolved in this otherwise impressive production.
FANGIRLS is an impressive new work that pushes boundaries and reminds us that girls have the power to take over the world.
Reviewed by Kristin Stefanoff
Venue: Ridley Centre, Adelaide Showground
Season: 27 Feb – 14 Mar 2021
Duration: 2hr 30m including interval
Tickets: $45 -$99
Rating out of 5: 4