A high-energy musical comedy about first love and fan culture, Fangirls celebrates the power of young women as tastemakers and changemakers, and critiques the ways in which this power is dismissed and undermined by typifying young female fans and their interests as silly and frivolous. Directed by Paige Rattray, with dramaturgy by Jonathan Ware, this world premiere is packed with clever, catchy songs from young comedian, singer, and playwright Yve Blake who not only wrote the book, music, and lyrics, but also stars in the production. Whether you screamed for The Beatles, One Direction, or your footy team in the grand final, you will find something to connect with in Fangirls.
Sharon Millerchip, Ayesha Madon, James Majoos, Chika Ikogwe and Kimberley Hodgson. Photograph © Stephen Henry
Edna is 14 and fiercely intelligent, on a scholarship to a fancy new school. Her mum is doing the best she can as a single parent, concerned about how much time her daughter spends online, while her two best friends think she’s immature. But Edna knows that none of that will matter once she starts her real life with Harry. Everyone else knows him as the face of True Connection, the world’s biggest boy band, but Edna sees past his stage smile and his perfect hair. Harry is looking to escape, and Edna knows she can set him free from the overwhelming life of fame, fortune, and fan girls. When True Connection announces a tour stop in her Australian hometown, Edna knows that this is destiny. She will go to any lengths for love, no matter what stands in her way – even the reality of the love of her life.
Blake was wonderfully awkward yet self-assured as Edna, with dance moves and an incredibly clear, strong voice to match, and her final solo gave me chills. Sharon Millerchip, Kimberley Hodgson, Chika Ikogwe, Ayesha Madon and James Majoos were a stellar supporting cast, creating stunning harmonies and playing a variety of roles throughout the show including Edna’s well-intentioned but exasperated mum Caroline (Millerchip), best friends and fellow Harry lovers Brianna (Hodgson) and Jules (Ikogwe), and Edna’s online best friend and fan fiction collaborator Saltypringl (Majoos). Australian singer Aydan (The Voice, Young Talent Time) played the role of mega-celebrity Harry, maintaining a consistent British accent and strong, smooth vocals.
Aydan. Photograph © Stephen Henry
The score combined elements of pop, rap, electronica, and choir into something cohesive and catchy, with musical direction and vocal arrangement by Alice Chance, music production by David Muratore, and sound design by Muratore and Michael Waters. It’s a melting pot of popular music, with powerful messages underlying many of the songs. Choreography by Leonard Mickelo took a similar approach, combining elements of hip hop and modern dance with touches of ballet and gymnastics to great effect and, often, great physical comedy.
Fangirls captured the enormous, electric vibe of a stadium pop concert – no mean feat in the 350-seat Bille Brown Theatre – and created an atmosphere that was part gig, part play, and part music video, with an impressive array of wigs and costumes transforming the supporting cast from scene to scene. Design by David Fleischer, lighting design by Emma Valente and AV design by Justin Harrison transported the audience from Edna’s bedroom into the online fan community, and to the hype and screams of the True Connection concert.
Blake has perfectly captured, in both her writing and her passionate portrayal of Edna, the intersection of absolute conviction and endless uncertainty that is a hallmark of teenage life, and the often-volatile nature of female friendships and mother-daughter relationships at this age. Edna, her two best friends, and her mother all had well-defined individual character arcs, and the show gently poked fun at the silliness of being young – the language we use, the things we love – without invalidating the love or the language.
Fangirls deals with a significant number of interconnected themes with care and empathy, from universal teenage struggles with parents, friends, and body image to fanfiction and fan communities as spaces for self-expression, positive reinforcement of self, exploration, and collaboration. The work critiques the business model of boy bands and the systems that create and exploit fan obsession without patronising or deriding the young people who participate in them. Fangirls is unapologetic about celebrating the obsessions and validating the emotions attached to them, both positive and negative, and highlights the need to take fandom seriously. The musical also addresses issues of mental health and the importance of creating supportive communities, and emphasises the importance of checking on and communicating with your friends.
Fangirls is a brilliant, sparkling new Australian musical about young women coming into their power that will have you swapping stories of first concerts and first crushes, and humming the tunes all the way home.
Fangirls is at Bille Brown Theatre, Queensland, until October 5
It plays at Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre, October 12 – November 10