Being a teenage girl is rough. Expectations are high, bodies are changing, social media is all consuming and society deems your interests as silly. There have been countless attempts to represent teen girl culture both on stage and screen, yet most rarely seem to get it right.
Originally premiering in 2019, Fangirls attracted a buzz rarely seen for a theatre show, with audience members as crazed as the fans the show was about. Returning for a repeat season and tour, ohmigodIwasliterallyDYYIIING to see what all the fuss was about.
Edna (newcomer Karis Oka) is popstar member of True Connection Harry’s biggest fan. Or so she thinks. She not only has her friends Jules (Chika Ikogwe) and Brianna (Shubshri Kandiah) to contend with, but a global army of fangirls intent on marrying her one and only true love. When Harry announces an Australian tour and Edna’s single mum refuses to get tickets, she takes matters into her own hands to – quite literally – capture the man of her dreams.
The show is a wonderful multi-sensory experience, with a set consisting only of large LED screens and lighting immediately giving the feel of a high-octane pop concert. The cast is young, fierce, diverse and with vocal chops to boot, with many flipping between roles and characters throughout. In such a heightened, technicolour world, there’s a risk of moving into caricature however Paige Rattray’s direction keeps everything warm and natural.
What struck the most however was the play’s realistic approach to online worlds, where teens easily navigate between IRL and digital relationships. Edna’s best friend and fellow Harry devotee Saltypringl (James Majoos) provides an excellent dive into the normality of online friendships, particularly within fan culture. The language and norms are very now, without being obviously so, and herein lies the shows true heart. It has an innate ability to take you past the apparent frivolous nature of teenage fandom and engage us with its deeper themes of self-acceptance, finding a tribe and learning to love.
We’re also forgetting the show is a musical, and a solid one at that, with a sugary score written by the show’s writer/lyricist/composer Yve Blake. The fact it was composed entirely on a laptop by a person with little musical experience only further serves the show’s themes of a resilient youth with technology at their fingertips, ready to carve a path.
With a recent mini-boom in locally produced musicals, we can only hope that this one takes on the world and enters our canon.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Fangirls performs at Sydney’s Seymour Centre presented by Belvoir Theatre until 20 February before touring to Adelaide Festival (February 27 – March 14), Merrigong Theatre Company (March 18 – 21) and Canberra Theatre Centre (March 24 – 28), with further locations to be announced.
Photo – Brett Boardman