By Fred Pryce
“Millennial” has become a catch-all term for ‘young people’, often lumped in dismissively with our tendencies to be “snowflakes”—meaning caring about social issues, being open about emotions and mental health, and complaining about things (being a critic, I relate strongly to that last one). Our sense of humour tends to verge with the absurd, dark, and surreal, with a semi-ironic longing for the past, a coping mechanism for hopeless times.
And so we have 80s Nostalgia Sad Hour, a culmination of this in which Jacinta Gregory immerses herself in the gaudy, colourful aesthetic of a past generation, to create some very contemporary musical comedy. Taking place in one of the numerous small spaces of the Factory Theatre (pretty literally a box with seating), the room has an up-close and cosy feel that enhances the intimacy of the performance, especially given the 3-piece band crammed in behind her. Gregory is a performer comfortable dwelling in the awkward, messy details of life, something reflected in her halting, conversational delivery and the number of personal details she shares with her audience. In a number of loosely connected sketches and songs, she chats about mental health issues (hilariously intoning to her psychologist “I’m just quirky!”), awkward sexual encounters, and her dad’s “bit” of pretending to read the Daily Telegraph for 20 years (although she’s beginning to suspect he might be serious). She’s also happy for audience contributions, responding directly to a number of people, and at one point having a more in-depth (and very amusing) conversation with a man about a new religion he’s starting.
Self-awareness is key here, in more ways than one: in some senses, she wishes she was in the 80s, but is also very aware of the danger of unbridled nostalgia. This intelligent approach to the past is represented by an old-fashioned synth-pop sound used as the backdrop for some cutting, salacious lyrics, as well as more literally in what she focuses on. One of the best songs is a duet between Gregory and a band member, focusing on the experience of watching old movies with wrongheaded views on romance—the type where the man is double the age of the woman and controls their dynamic to an uncomfortable degree (remember when women couldn’t own property?). In fact, she parodies her negative or bemusing experiences with men in a number of ways, most memorably impersonating “the straight guy in the back of the nightclub” (he mostly just stands around clutching a beer). The songs never grow old, with a good variety including a gospel ode to the Liberal party, a “sexy” ballad about depression, and a version of ‘Love Shack’ about hitting up gay bars that uses great use of the song’s rhythmic interjections. And most importantly, Gregory’s vocals can be compelling as well as funny, depending on the need of the moment.
The theatre-in-the round setting means that viewers at the sides don’t always get the best view of Gregory’s face, and a couple songs might get a little repetitive (as 80s pop songs tend to do), but overall, the show is satirical, emotionally intelligent, and entertaining. Score 1: “Millennials”.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.