‘All Fired Up’ was nostalgic.
Do you remember the 80s? Well, if not, Box Jelly Theatre Co.’s latest production, ‘All Fired Up’ does, and they’ve gone to great lengths to transport their audiences, most of whom clearly did remember the 80s, back there.
Presented as part of Brisbane Festival 2022 at the South Bank Piazza, ‘All Fired Up’ was written by co-stars Rachel Terry and Roz Pappalardo. A jukebox musical first and foremost, the piece was presented much like a live concert with a basic plot to connect songs together. The show aims to capture the differences and similarities between modern culture and 80s culture, through the medium of a midlife crisis, time travel, and a lot of music.
‘All Fired Up’ follows Tammy Tooth (Rachel Terry), a woman in her late 40s, recounting the midlife crisis she went through a year earlier. After arguing with her teenage daughter (Scarlett Terry) about the music she listens to, Tammy begins listening to a playlist of the music she grew up with and finds herself transported back in time to her old bedroom in the late 1980s. It’s here where she encounters her own 15-year-old self (also played by Scarlett Terry) and is forced to confront the person she has become, and the person she once was.
From here the narrative of ‘All Fired Up’ explores themes surrounding the cyclical nature of popular culture and intergenerational relationships. This is supported on a metatextual level by having the same actress play Tammy’s daughter and the younger Tammy herself. Tammy is disgusted by her daughter listening to Nicki Minaj’s ‘WAP’ but is perfectly comfortable with Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin,’ and a portion of the narrative revolves around Tammy discovering that her younger self is not dissimilar to her daughter. These themes are present and occasionally push the loose plot along, however, the show is largely structured around the younger Tammy creating the mixtape that sent her back in time in the first place.
The real star of the show is the live band, spearheaded by co-writer Roz Pappalardo. Unlike most jukebox musicals, the songs in ‘All Fired Up’ are performed separately from the main narrative, with Pappalardo fronting the band singing and occasionally interjecting as a radio DJ. Whenever a song played, the story stopped for the actors to dance along to the piece. Certain songs did have narrative relevance, but it was largely disconnected from the dramatic action, and it led to the show feeling less like a musical and more like a concert for a cover band with a plot written around it. Make no mistake though, it was an excellent cover band! People were often on their feet dancing in the crowd, cheers would erupt whenever a new 80s classic started up, and the audience was all singing along by the end.
This leads to the other star of the show: the audience. Tammy introduces the show with a direct reference to “peri-menopausal women” and it is clear from the outset that ‘All Fired Up’ is aimed squarely at that audience. Indeed, they made up the vast majority of the crowd and it was truly something to see as they let loose when a song started up. The audience also reacted strongly to any mention of 80s culture, such as Rob Lowe posters, Cabbage Patch Kids, and Alpine Cigarettes (the latter received a particularly enormous reaction). Being outside that demographic by quite a bit left this reviewer, and probably a few others in the audience, a little uninterested or disconnected at times. Although the songs were entertaining and the dancing peppy, the narrative didn’t allow for much to glean onto beyond nostalgia.
On a technical level, the show was immaculate. The band sounded excellent, they were loud when they needed to be and soft when underscoring dialogue. Always audible, but never ear-bleeding. Bright, colourful lights added to the high-energy, fast-paced feel of the piece.
Set design was minimal, but in a deliberate way, as it made it easy to switch focus between the band and the dramatic action at will. The costuming was everything you would anticipate: bright fluorescent clothes, big hair, legwarmers, sweatbands, blue eyeshadow and a “Choose Life” t-shirt, all effectively contrasted with Tammy’s plain grey tracksuit as she goes through her midlife crisis.
‘All Fired Up’ was a brisk 70 minutes, with no intermission to bog down its energy. Those that loved it really loved it. Those that didn’t were kept attentive the whole time and even the most cynical will find it hard not to crack a smile at least a handful of times. The energy was infectious too. Tammy called the audience up to their feet at the start and end of the show and the number of people who stood up and danced grew exponentially by the end.
If you’re looking for a fun live show with energetic dancing and catchy music, or if you grew up in the 80s, ‘All Fired Up’ is the show to catch.
‘All Fired Up’ performed one night only on Sunday, 11 September 2022 at the South Bank Piazza and will play again at Redland Performing Arts Centre this Friday, 23 September 2022.