By James Ong
Gosh this was a fun show! From beginning to end (including intermission), Fangirls was a beautifully crafted experience that combined a heartfelt script, wonderful design, fresh music and all around great performances in one of the best shows I’ve seen on the Belvoir stage.
We follow 14 year old Edna (Yve Blake) as she learns how to balance her school friends, her online circles and a maybe, ever-so-slightly fanatical obsession with teen pop sensation, Harry (last name not included). When Harry announces that his boy band True Connection is coming to Sydney, Edna’s grit, friendships and wallet are tested as she scrambles to finally meet her one true love.
As playwright, composer, lyricist and lead performer, Blake is certainly one artist to watch out for and her success in each of these disciplines is remarkable. In Fangirls, Blake shows tact and self-awareness, sidestepping the main pitfalls often found in self-devised pieces (ie. self-indulgence), instead crafting a finely-tuned showcase for all 7 actors to shine. In fact, each of them do! There is a consistent shine throughout the cast show, with each performer uniquely hilarious and building electric chemistry with their costars. Edna’s two best friends, Jules (Chika Ikogwe) and Brianna (Kimberley Hodgson), combine for a true highlight reel duo, rattling off with some crackling banter and a few brilliant one liners. The duo of Ayesha Madon and James Majoos stole the show at points with their palpable charisma in several side characters and Sharon Millerchip expertly tugged on the heartstrings as Edna’s mum, Caroline.
The MacGuffin of the story is Harry, played by real life one-name wonder, Ayden. The teen heartthrob gained fame through several reality TV appearances, including The Voice Australia, through which he has amassed a true-to-life teen/tween following. Ayden has been utilised perfectly here, deliciously hamming up his boy band persona.
The millennial/Gen Z experience is brought to vibrant life by an impressive and detailed design team that have filled the stage with bounds of character and authenticity. Thorough set and costume design help the world feel truly lived-in and showing the lives our characters lead outside those written in the script. Large LED screens shape the back wall and are used to project everything from a rap video backdrop, to a collage hundreds of vloggers and to mimic the dramatic, thumping lighting of a pop concert. It would be hard to authentically represent a modern teenager’s life without the use of screens, so leaning into them is a smart choice, that not only varies the storytelling techniques, but allowed for some versatile and impactful lighting effects.
The reason I’ve labelled Harry the MacGuffin is because ultimately, it doesn’t matter who he is. He simply functions as an object of desire for our protagonist to chase, and it seems that’s the crux of the show. For Edna, intense fandom is a way to muster and invest positive energy into something; an opportunity to dedicate herself entirely to something and find daily direction and purpose - something we all have found elusive in our adolescent years. Fangirls analyses the different functions that fandom takes in our lives, both positive and negative. It provides a sense of community, which can often lead to exclusion and division. The feverish passion that is intentionally built, is hard to control and is a slippery slope into obsession.
One topic that is touched on, but not fully explored is the double standard between fanboys and fangirls. A stereotypical boy sportsfan can scream at the TV and cry when their team loses, but the same passion is seen as silly and hysterical when it’s from a girl. That being said, a lot the actions our protagonist takes isn’t necessarily well-balanced.
In Fangirls, Yve Blake and Director Paige Rattray have assembled a fantastic new Australian musical, and it’s easy to see why the show has built such strong buzz after it’s launch in Brisbane earlier this year. Tackling a modern topic with an energetic and insightful spirit, Fangirls is an absolute cracker.
Image Credit: Brett Boardman
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.