Review: Fangirls – Belvoir St Theatre Company, performed at Illawarra Performing Arts Centre (NSW)

Book, music and lyrics by Yve Blake, directed by Paige Rattray.

Have you ever had a poster of a band on your wall as a teenager? Obsessed over a lead singer? Pictured yourself marrying said artist with a grandiose wedding and riding off into the sunset with a picture-perfect life? Then you may just see yourself in one of the many characters up on stage in the newest original Australian musical Fangirls!

Fourteen-year-old Edna (Karis Oka), is head over heels in love with the lead singer of True Connection, Harry (The Voice grand finalist, AYDAN) with a hair whip that makes the girls’ knees weak, a voice of an angel, and who is “trapped” in the vortex of fame – at least as far as Edna believes. Along with Edna’s frenemy, Jules (Chika Ikogwe) and the in-the-middle Rebecca (Shubshri Kandiah), we follow the teenage girls’ (often over the top) obsession with the lead singer of the world’s biggest band.

With a book, music and lyrics by Yve Blake, Fangirls manages to capture the world of the fangirl and the idealisation of popstars in impressionable eyes. Blake clearly shows a genuine desire to celebrate this subject and position Fangirls audiences to understand it. The musical’s overall message teaches us that boundless creativity of the young girls portrayed needs to be allowed to thrive, instead of being stifled and manipulated into the ideas of “proper behaviour”. Especially in this modern world of technology, the possibilities are endless, and Blake’s mission is to prove that with unbreakable determination, and a study of some instructional YouTube clips, these girls can (literally) do anything.

The music itself, (original orchestration and vocal arrangement by Alice Chance) is anything but classical. With a clear target audience chosen, the upbeat, bouncy music targets the Millennial and Gen-Z era of fans. As large stand out musical numbers are twisted to aid the story, rather than create spectacle, the orchestration ranges from three-part harmony songs of obsession to the breaking of kneecaps to anyone who would dare harm a perfect hair on the head of Harry. While the songs may not stick in your head as you leave the theatre, their messages are the heart of Fangirls.

Photo by Brett Boardman

With a simplistic set that is aided using its four dynamic video screens, designer David Fleischer allows for a multitude of settings to take place, from the large concerts of True Connection to online virtual chatrooms of the fangirls themselves.

As the heart of the show, Karis Oka brings heart, soul, and pathos to her Edna. Oka makes Edna relatable to anyone who has been a teenager, whether you have screamed at your Mum when you just want to be left alone, or simply just been an obsessive, semi-psychotic fangirl yourself.
Thanks to Blake’s writing, Edna becomes a character that we cheer for, despite her ridiculous plans to ‘save’ Harry from his True Connection lifestyle.

Being no stranger to being adored by a legion of fans, singer AYDEN is familiar with fame. As a former star of the hit talent show The Voice, he suits the role perfectly, right down to his obnoxious hair flick that (literally) makes his fans writhe and spasm with delight. Despite a shoddy accent that clearly is only used to parody the boy band group he symbolises, when AYDEN takes centre stage, he revels being in a live theatre again.

The rest of the relationships in the musical rest on the deteriorating relationship between Edna and her friends, Jules and Rebecca – creating a more ever isolated Edna – and her mother (Sharon Millerchip). Millerchip becomes a tangible symbol for anyone beyond the millennial age of the audience to connect with. A clever piece of writing on Blake’s part, as the end message revolves around the acceptance of the female fangirl identity.

Photo by Brett Boardman

While the musical itself may not be for everyone – the show wins the award for the amount of times “literally” can work its way into a script for satire – the show exposes the double standards present in our gender-based society, which lies at the heart of the treatment of fangirls. One of the strongest lines of the show establishes the disparity between a fangirl’s ecstatic obsessions and if a boy showed a similar level of passion screaming at the television over a sportsman missing a ball.

While Act One may seem rushed at first and hard to ease into, with the plotline, satirical characters and music being jarring, the show picks up as it speeds towards its interval. Act Two establishes itself as the more grounded and message driven section of the production, revelling in the cynicism of the commercial music industry which creates intense rivalries, online trolling, and fights between devoted fans. The shows strongest moments pack a powerful gut punch towards hashtags that (literally) went viral such as #CutForHarry and directs a message towards the belittling of women as “silly little girls” instead of empowering future leaders.

Fangirls may, on the surface, seem like the first Gen Z musical that has hit mainstream Australia, but if you ride it out, you are treated to a show with so much more depth.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence in what musical theatre can be, with the likes of Be More Chill, Six and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, forcing the Sondheims and Rogers and Hammersteins of the world to move aside to make way for modern themes and content to take centre stage. At last, Australia has its own original modern musical that has the ability to create waves outside of our country’s theatres.

Reviewer Rating

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Fangirls runs in Wollongong until the 21st March, Canberra between March 24-28, and Melbourne April 28-May 9.

Fangirls ABC Interview with Yve Blake


To keep up with the latest news, reviews and our own Theatre Thoughts, follow us on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

Leave a Reply