ADELAIDE FESTIVAL: For three misfit teenage boys, the ritual of the school dance is a challenge like no other.
Three teenage boys are preparing for the school dance, but this isn’t going to be any ordinary night: these dorky misfits are going to confront monsters and overcome peril, in a manner befitting He-Man or the main character in a John Hughes movie. Directed by Rosemary Myers and written by Matthew Whittet, School Dance is a classic interpretation of the underdog(s) succeeding in the end through their determination and their love for their friends.
There’s really a lot to love about this show. If you’re aged between 27 and 40, be prepared for an avalanche of nostalgic 80s pop culture references, from the Smurfs and Gremlins to Bill and Ted. The performances by the four primary actors (Matthew Whittet, Jonathon Oxlade and Luke Smiles as the three boys, and Amber McMahon as a bevy of female characters) are truly outstanding, and while the show is aimed at a younger audience, the adult audience attending the opening night performance (like me) enjoyed themselves enormously. While McMahon distinguishes herself by lightning-fast character and costume changes and her trademark cheeky delivery, the three male performers are worthy of huge admiration in that they are also the writer (Whittet), designer (Oxlade) and composer (Smiles).
In devising this show for a predominantly teenage audience (14+), Myers and Whittet aren’t afraid to tackle some confronting subject matter, either directly (domestic violence and serious bullying) or indirectly (Jonathon’s sexuality). These issues are handled sensitively and sympathetically and are well balanced by the show’s predominantly comic tone.
Jonathon Oxlade’s design is intelligent, colourful and effective. The set, most times looking like a fairly ordinary school hall but featuring some fun surprises and ingenious effects, works well. While the writing was generally strong, the work may have benefited from an excision of one or two scenes which added little in terms of narrative or character development.
For me, one of the foremost questions was how the show would be received by an audience of contemporary teenagers. It’s very firmly set in an era several decades before Facebook and iPhones. While the ur-narrative of a boy surmounting his obstacles to win in the end is clear and powerful regardless of the chronological placement, part of the reason I and the adult audience enjoyed this show so much was its clever nostalgic tweaks. Without these emotional hooks, which may fall through the generation gap, would the show be as moving? I’m not sure, but regardless, School Dance is a work made with a lot of compassion, humour, and respect for its viewers’ intelligence, and I hope it is seen by a wide audience.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Presented by Windmill Theatre and Adelaide Festival
Matthew Whittet – Writer & Performer
Rosemary Myers – Director
Jonathon Oxlade – Designer & Performer
Luke Smiles/Motion Laboratories – Original Soundtrack & Performer
Richard Vabre – Lighting
Gabrielle Nankivell – Movement
Chris More – Animation
Amber McMahon – Performer
Jim Rose – Performer
March 6 -10
March 2 – 18