‘Jane and Kel Go to Hell’ was lit.
There are only a few experiences quite like the stomach-twisting moment that occurs when, a few moments into watching a production on stage, a sudden realisation hits you:
“Oh… this show isn’t about me, is it?”
Every twenty- or thirty-something sitting in the audience of ‘Jane and Kel Go to Hell’ is likely to experience such a thought, especially within the opening scene, which is set in the offices of Buzzfeed, Vice, or some similar digital-age, pseudo-journalistic institution.
Jane, the play’s protagonist, faces a performance review on a yoga mat, in which she is informed by her ultra-modern boss that a recent staff poll has determined she is ‘shit, not lit’ because she doesn’t write suitable ‘content’ for the company’s ‘branding’. Rather than Jane’s editorial about civil wars plaguing central Africa, her boss wants listicles and reality TV recaps. Jane, still recovering from severe depression, is desperate for meaning in her life and feels entrapped by the routine irrelevance of this workspace.
“Okay… some of this is sounding really close to home…”
After resigning from her job, Jane returns home to the house she shares with Kel, her best friend and a university student, who seems equally dispassionate about her own life. Despite this, Kel has developed coping methods that, while unhealthy, work for her. She attempts to comfort Jane with alcohol and Karaoke (the ‘Grease Megamix’, to be exact).
“Alright. Fine. This show is about me.”
What follows is a delightfully scathing review of millennialism. From coffee culture to group assignments to Soundcloud rapping, no facet of this generation is spared by Steve Pirie’s rapid-fire script. In fact, it is this social commentary, far more than the storyline that serves more as a vehicle for the play and the production’s unique selling point. The show holds up an age-old proverbial mirror to society and then slaps us across the face with it – but in the most enjoyable way possible. It’s difficult to disagree through bursts of self-deprecating humour.
The five cast members are all first-rate comedians. The balance between Kayla Robinson’s critical and neurotic Jane and Emma Black’s far less reserved Kel is central to the success of the show and the two actors manage this successfully. Whilst Black has more comic moments within the script to work with and is the kind of actor who bursts into a scene with the sole intention of owning it, Robinson is never lost by comparison. They are both delights to watch onstage.
The various characters within the ensemble are played by Ben Warren, Daniel Simpson and Lara Rix, all of whom are gifted with an acute sense of comic timing and the ability to elicit roaring laughter with single syllables and, at times, by standing entirely still.
Warren is a chameleon. He steps between his diverse roles with apparent ease but unwavering commitment. Simpson’s ‘Roy’, a naïve and awkward new addition to the share house that the women occupy, is a constant pleasure. Rounding off the ensemble, Rix is a captivating and charming performer who draws both empathy and ire from the audience in the various identities she inhabits.
Given several contemporary theatrical norms employed in the production – such as the use of lighting to convey time and place, multiple roles played by the ensemble (including one role in particular that was shared by all 3 ensemble members throughout the course of the show – one of the comic highlights of the production) and a plot that could be described as magical realism – the set seemed distractingly out of place. Some locations were completely mimed, while others had unnecessary detail. The allocation of this seemed random. Aside from the couch that was central to the narrative, the same could have been achieved through a black box-style aesthetic.
For ‘Jane and Kel Go to Hell’, there is much to be enjoyed here for any audience member who ‘gets it’, though older audiences may not fully understand some of the references or relate to the plights of the younger protagonists. The comedy is engaging, fresh and self-reflective. It is a show by millennials, about millennials and for millennials, and on those points, it delivers beautifully.
‘Jane and Kel Go to Hell’ tours until Saturday, 11 May 2019. For event information, visit https://sharehousetheatre.com.au/events/.