‘Fangirls’ was extra.
Uniting generations with a dose of nostalgia and flashbacks to their first heartbreak, ‘Fangirls’ has quickly become one of the must-see events at this year’s Brisbane Festival. Produced in collaboration with Queensland Theatre, the feverish and colourful new musical, written by the insanely creative Yve Blake, takes audiences straight back to adolescence and reminds us of the dangers when underestimating teenage girls.
A musical by millennials, for millennials, and about millennials, but with universal appeal, ‘Fangirls’ follows the rollercoaster life of 14-year-old Edna – a teen with a crush on Harry, who’s a member of the world’s biggest boy band, True Connection. When the group announce they’re adding Brisbane to their next tour stop, mayhem ensues as Edna realises this is her only chance to meet her ‘no.1’ idol and convince him of the future she’s dotingly planned for them. Edna must go against all odds to catch the attention of Harry, her true love, especially since she doesn’t have a ticket to the show.
In a Beyonce concert meets YouTube channel kind of way, this new Australian musical explored first love, fan culture, and self-discovery. Comedian, singer and playwright, Yve Blake, has crafted a comedic romp through pop fandom, with plenty of modern beats and catchy tunes that ebb and flow through the highs and lows of teenage life. The script was hilariously honest, down-to-earth, and will leave audiences feeling like they’ve had moments of their own lives played out before them.
The themes within ‘Fangirls’ related to multiple generations, as recognising one’s self in the characters was almost too easy. The show explored trends and obsessions similar to those currently had over bands like ‘One Direction’ and ‘East 17’. It was also aptly reminiscent of the past phenomenon, ‘Beatlemania’ generated by 60’s rock band ‘The Beatles’. The hype and hysteria, alike such events, was tangibly recreated within this production, and the buzz in the air was electrifying.
At times, a slight generation gap occurred for audiences understanding the content and the hype of a newly styled millennial-pop fandom. In this day and age, our obsessions include the use of digital technology, peppered with a new type of modern slang (that’s totes adorbs!). While the lingo may have been lost in translation for some, it was only minor and there was really nothing not to love about ‘Fangirls’.
Attention to detail within the presentation of the production was excellent and completed the world to a tee. From the glittered silver stage flooring to the sequined costumes, to the pillows and pyjamas printed with band members faces – there was evident synergy between writer, director and creative teams. Director, Paige Rattray seamlessly and fluidly moved the play around the space and harnessed the differing atmospheres of a small bedroom to a concert stage. The music was rousing and catchy in the theatre with polished vocal arrangements and Musical Direction by Alice Chance.
One of the real breadwinners of ‘Fangirls’ was its Audio-Visual Design by Justin Harrison that animatingly played on large digital screens behind the actors. Working in sync with Designer David Fleischer, Lighting Designer Emma Valente and Sound Designers David Muratore and Michael Waters, plot-points were illuminated and became larger than life, adding dynamics to the musical, which captured its hyperactive nature.
The screens displayed callouts, neon pictures, cartoon-zombie drawings and many faces that came together in live videos, which zoomed across the screens behind actors. In a way, these voices and images became back-up singers to the main acting spectacle. Instead of opting for clunky scene changes, graphics were utilised to resemble the setting; thus taking audiences on a cinematic adventure.
For instance, when the lead character was talking via the internet, tiled faces cubed the screens to give us a sense of the world wide web. At no point did these images detract, instead, at every moment the modern device heightened emotions and threw audiences into the current technological era. Additional set pieces, if and when used, were minimalistic and rolled in and out as required.
Selling the show to audiences were the energetic and wholesome performances that came from a very established cast, all making their debut at Queensland Theatre.
In the leading role of Edna, Blake proved she’s a quintuple threat (and counting). Taking audiences on a journey, she completely embodied the obsessive character from head to toe with lip-biting sincerity. Her mannerisms, facial expressions and body language worked to the nth degree and we believed her immature thirst for youthful dreams. No matter how far fetched Edna’s plans became, there was a desire to see her succeed and cheer her on in the ridiculous escapades. It was obvious Blake understood the characterisation through her research and this was her role to bring to life.
Supporting Blake were Kimberley Hodgson as the meek and nerdy, Brianna, and Chika Ikogwe as the popular and boy-crazy, Jules. Both women were dynamite performers and their energy was infectious on stage. It was hard not to focus on either as they commanded the stage with a potent mix of sass and naivety, leaving no doubt that the childhood clique were ‘#squadgoals’. A highlight was when the pair got ready for the True Connection concert, rapping and downing Redbull energy drinks to hype themselves up for the life-changing event.
Rounding out the cast, ‘The Voice’, ‘Australia’s Got Talent’ and ‘Eurovision Australia Decides’ star Aydan achieved the smooth swagger of the teen heartthrob, Harry, wooing audiences with his hip-hop moves and dimpled smile. James Majoos was flamboyant, self-assured and vocally stunning as Edna’s online friend and fan-fiction co-author, Satypringl. Sharon Millerchip showed masterclass versatility and ageless acting ability as she transformed from mother, Caroline, to younger obsessive schoolgirls, and Ayesha Madon marked her territory with impressive vocal riffs and runs.
One truth that comes from ‘Fangirls’ was that the musical explored a double standard that exists in our society. While girls are mocked for idolising their teen heroes, boys who show similar worship for sports are not attacked with the same eye-rolling emoji face. It was another comment on the gender divide that still exists to this day, as well as underscoring the value divide that our culture places on art and sports.
Equally so, the musical pinpoints the intense fandom that sparks from the commercial music industry and its strategic marketing effects. As much as the love for boy bands unites fans globally, they also can tear them apart through online bullying and trolling. It’s eye-opening to see how easy it is to lose oneself in all that glitters.
Regardless of its serious undertones, ‘Fangirls’ warmed hearts by celebrating love in all types of relationships. Audiences bared witness to a stellar contemporary musical packaged passionately for viewers of today. Through Blake’s well-crafted music and lyrics, it was easy to draw personal take-home messages from the show’s content. Not to mention, the hits could easily be recorded and played on the radio right now. This is the type of show that can easily change a life, through recognising similar behaviours in ourselves, our friends and our families.
‘Fangirls’ is the type of show you need to take your sisters too, and to be totally honest, if a cast album isn’t on its way, it should be.
‘Fangirls’ performs at Queensland Theatre until Saturday, 5 October 2019. For tickets visit Queensland Theatre’s Website – Fangirls.