There is something primal and terrifying about the love a teenage girl has for a pop star. Often the idealised version of a boy that you find in the charts and in the hearts of large groups of teenagers is a one-sided emotional tsunami of absolutes and urgency. It’s easy for it to tip over into obsession and make the most off kilter behaviour seem like the only option. Teenage love and lust are ferocious forces in their own right, but aimed at an unattainable target, a pop star that is loved with equal velocity by millions around the world, and that is just all kinds of heartbreak waiting to happen.
Yves Blake has created an original musical which had an single airing at 2pm on a cold and wet winters day as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. It is not in a finished form but attending this workshop production of a reduced version of the full production, proved moving and thrilling. Partially because even without the full show, with no costumes and minimal theatrical ‘acting’ as such, it was obvious that this show is going to be making a huge noise in the near future. It’s essentially a ‘read through’ version, without all the bells and whistles. Seven principal singers up front and another half dozen at the rear.
The concept is brilliant. The songs have complexity and hooks aplenty. It packs a number of laser sighted emotional punches and skilled comedic moments. And then it can turn dark, creepy almost, before snapping back to the main tracks and making you laugh out loud.
Essentially the story of a group of fourteen year old schoolgirls who are massive fans of the biggest band ever True Direction. In particular the hunkiest boy in the boy band, Harry. I am sure any resemblance to characters living or dead is purely coincidental. Nobody Loves You Like I Do, they all sing in unison, each believing they mean it more than all the others could possibly ever. The writing captures the urgency of teenage fan love beautifully, in all it’s pure, sometimes unhinged glory. Less you think it is some lightweight boy band homage, hold your horses. The fan girl obsession part of the narrative is deftly encapsulated, and I have seen that kind of fervour in many teenage eyes over the years. The object of that emotional force changes every few years, Elvis, The Beatles, Donny Osmond, Michael Jackson, David Cassidy, Bay City Rollers, New Kids on the Block, Hanson, Five, Bieber, One Direction, 5SOS, but the seismic impact on young people is always pretty similar. Like all manner of hysteria the effects are magnified in groups and gatherings. Add into the mix the the way many teenage ‘mean girls’ treat each other, with judgements, power plays, cliques, changing allegiances and modern day technology adding to the regular stress levels of just being a not quite fully evolved adult.
And the object of your affection has just announced they are coming to your city. I have often been among the desperation of your favourite band announcing a tour with tickets going on sale ‘tomorrow’ you can’t afford and your Mum won’t let you go. As a hormonal teenager, it is much less easy to shrug off missing the concert that seems unmissable.
When this production gets dark, it gets really dark, and some of the bleak angles on teenage depression, isolation, suicidal thoughts, violent themes, may perhaps not be what some might be expecting in a show about boy band fans. The songs are very strong and (if my assumption of the titles are correct) read like a Boy Band CD track listing. Daydream, OMG I’m Actually Dead, (Tonight is Gonna Be) The Best Night of My Life. Cool Like That.
There is a recuring theme of the girls feeling like they are being patronized and side-lined as ‘silly little girls’, dismissed for their youth, gender and adolescent enthusiasm. The sting that treating girls like silly flibberdy jibbets, sets them up to expect to be treated like that into the rest of their lives, is both timely as it is awful. But, as one lyric boldly states
Tease Us, Hate Us,
But don’t under estimate us
We are in love
And out for blood
As the show heads towards what looks like a dire conclusion, there is an masterful turn of events, which i’ll leave for you to see in it’s final form. I cannot wait to see this show come to full fruition.
For me it shares much of the emotional oomph and smashing humour and skill of Tim Minchin’s Matilda. It is likely to be a show people will return to over and over and has enough broad appeal to be able to travel much further than just this country alone. I was dying to go and ask Tim Minchin, who was in attendence today, what he thought out it.
Blake has done what few succeed in doing. Creating a contemporary musical, full of interesting, funny, layered charecters and songs performed by a talented ensemble of performers we may not know yet but I suspect we soon will. This work in progress, is actually more like a triumph in progress.
Adelaide Cabaret Festival Review By Ian Bell