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New Aussie Play Captures the Thrill of First Concerts for Young Women

New Aussie Play Captures the Thrill of First Concerts for Young Women

It is always wonderful to see a new Australian play, and to see one by a female playwright with a majority female cast and creative team is a thrill. Hits, by the multi-talented director, writer, and co-producer Rebecca Meston, cranks up the volume on home-grown theatre, transforming the black box Space Theatre into a band venue reminiscent of the ’80s and ’90s.

Seated at cabaret tables, the audience becomes part of a live music concert. Loud music blares, mosh-pit actors enter from the audience, and we meet Rhiannon (Ren Williams, with wonderful depth and energy), a young high school kid clutching an LP record and singing to her imagined fans – into her pink hairbrush.

Hits reclaims the rush of first concerts and band culture for young women, following Rhiannon from stultifying suburban teen angst to the highs and homecomings of 1993 and the Big Day Out. The journey is accompanied by a soundtrack of bangers and easy-listening radio hits.

Over the course of the play, we watch Rhiannon grow from a misfit dorky kid, raised by her “so embarrassing” single mum, to a young adult who discovers her home in music. Williams’ nuanced performance is a highlight and carries this story with joy.

The 13 other characters are played by an impressive ensemble of three. Emma Beech as Rhiannon’s mum, Linda, deftly handles some of the best comedy one-liners in the show, dressed in vintage taffeta no less. Her mean girl Meels is an all-too-familiar high school bully who calls the shots and decides what’s cool and who is a loser.

Beech and Williams create a beautifully flawed relationship between the confused teen and her struggling mum. As Suzie, the cool friend we all wish we had, Annabel Matheson is a delight—a Rhonda to Rhiannon’s Muriel, and the embodiment of women standing up to male power. Her other characters, such as the “mean girl” Bee and silent Sizzler waiter, are glorious.

Eddie Morrison plays all the male characters, from the over-eager school kids and band fans to a range of sleazy men from the ’80s and ’90s. He relishes portraying the full-of-himself radio DJ Barry and the predatory band manager, drawing groans and shudders from the audience.

Students from Flinders Drama Centre provide the show with its chorus of mosh-pitting concertgoers. On the dance floor, they sometimes morph into a kind of ghostly extension of Rhiannon’s dreams or emotions. Erin Fowler’s choreography creates beautiful and simple moments where the mosh pit crowd stamps or leans out on angles, or performs daggy dance floor sequences. Linda is “reeled in” by her date; Rhiannon stage dives and crowd surfs.

Dynamic direction and the use of space see actors enter and exit from the audience as well as side stage. A central set of steps becomes a bus, or a transcendent moment on a crowded dance floor. Lighting design by Mark Oakley creates much with little, giving us rock concert cross beams and intimate isolated parts of the stage, picking out Rhiannon in bright light among shadowy dancers.

Jason Sweeney’s inventive sound design gives us blaring radio hits, stadium mic echo, insistently present songs at low volume under scenes, throbbing beats, and crowd noise. Ali Jones’ set places us on a band stage, the platform doubling as a seat. Two small tables become Linda and Rhiannon’s house, the record shop, backstage, and, in a wonderfully sad-but-hilarious scene, a table at Sizzler. Her costumes are a fun mash-up of vintage, awkwardly recognizable ’90s looks, and the never-changing unflattering school uniforms.

Hits could be a fabulous show for high schools and young adults, perhaps developing the shy male school friend character to stand up to the mean girls for yet more empowerment. There are moments where the pace of the production slows too much, which may change with more runs in front of an audience and possibly some further editing of the script. There are also some moments where the quieter, more intimate dialogue is hard to hear from the tables at the back of the audience, due in part to the massive volume contrast between recorded music at concert levels and the spoken voice.

While ably staged at the Space Theatre, this piece would be amazing to see in an actual live music venue and will hopefully be developed further for touring. Meston has an excellent ear for the cadences of teen-speak and bitchy schoolgirl gossip, and a deep understanding of the almost religious experience of concerts. There are plenty of comic moments from a cast mining the exchanges and phrasing for every laugh.

Meston deftly repositions women as the creators and consumers of band culture, as we follow the triumph of Suze and Rhiannon making their own way in a male-dominated world. Hits is at the Adelaide Festival Centre until July 6.

Source: Particlenews