Fringe Review: Puberty Blues

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Presented by Verendus Theatrical and Deadset Theatre
Reviewed 13th March 2018

Two years ago, at just 15 years old, Zoe Muller began writing a script for Puberty Blues, ‘just for fun’. With the support of Verendus Theatrical, and after establishing Deadset Theatre Company with Matilda Butler and Jean Collins, Muller’s script came to life at Holden Street Theatre in October. After a successful opening, the trio have brought the play back to Adelaide audiences as a part of the Fringe Festival. One can see why. This is a great production.

The story, originally a novel by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey, follows the lives of Debbie and Sue; two Australian teenagers manipulating the complex world of sex, drugs, alcohol and abuse. It is disturbing how relevant these themes are today, establishing the issues as universal and timeless.

Adapating an entire novel into a 70 minute script is a daunting task; but Muller has done an excellent job. The dialogue is natural and has a large emotional range, encapsulating 1970’s Australia well. Her staging, assisted by Matilda Butler, is usually effective, with a number of particularly well thought out scenes. However, this reviewer believes that there are inherent dangers in self-directing a production that one has a very large role in, as it is impossible to assess how well a concept works when you are unable to view it from an audience perspective. For example, the upwards inflections at the end of all sentences, whilst perhaps suiting an Australian teenage party scene, became incessant and mundane and prevented a wider emotional range being reached by all actors.

This being said, the acting was of a high standard – especially considering most of the cast were school age. Muller and Butler lead the pack as the leading ladies, demonstrating their dramatic skill as they embodied the struggles of teenage girls at the hands of boys in the 70’s. Their friendship was authentic and heart-warming.  Brad McCarthy was charming as Debbie’s partner Gary Hennessey, whilst Henry Solomon not only captured Danny’s brutality and his social, tough-guy façade but stunningly embodied his underlying vulnerability as he dealt with Sue’s pregnancy. The scenes between McCarthy and Solomon were some of the best in the show. Ella Buckingham was suitably brash as Vicky and Jordan Weaver was hilarious as Mr Candy.

The set was extremely minimal, consisting only of a teared seating platform, a single mattress, and a chair that acted as a bedside table. However, with no projections and a simplistic lighting plot, it became difficult for the audience to distinguish between the numerous location shifts throughout the script. Scene changes, whilst relatively fast-paced, lacked fluidity, with Muller opting for a number of complete blackouts to indicate a progression of the narrative. Some scenes, particularly the ones played out in Sue’s bedroom, were cramped and hard to follow.

On opening night, the young cast was received by a packed auditorium, who clapped and cheared enthusiastically. What more evidence do you need that this was a great night out? Kudos Deadset Theatre. Keep on the look out for their next project.

Reviewed by Ben Francis

Rating out of 5: 4

Venue:  Stirling Community Theatre
Season:  Remainings shows 15th & 17th March
Duration:  70 mins
Tickets:  $22/$17
Bookings:  https://adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix/puberty-blues-af2018

 

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About Author

At 18 years old, Ben’s training has taken him around Australia, and to Hong Kong, Paris and London, including on the West End and in The Royal Albert Hall. In 2016, Ben performed as a supporting lead in the State Opera of South Australia’s world premiere production of Cloudstreet!, under the direction of internationally-acclaimed director, Gale Edwards. Other credits include: You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown (Snoopy), The Little Mermaid (Prince Eric), Wizard of Oz (Scarecrow), Pirates of Penzance (Frederic) and Jesus Christ Superstar (Jesus), for which he earned a nomination for ‘Best Young Performer’ in the Adelaide Theatre Guide 2015/16 ‘Curtain Call’ Awards. Ben also performs regularly with Independent Theatre, with roles including Peter Pan in Peter and Alice, Mozart in Amadeus, and Sebastien in Brideshead Revisited. Ben is also the producer and lead vocalist of The 60 Four scaling the falsetto heights of Frankie Valli, Brian Wilson and other vocal groups of the 60’s. A skilled musician, Ben also enjoys musically directing and orchestrally conducting local productions, including: Bugsy Malone and 13! The Musical with Adelaide Youth Theatre.  Ben is a recent graduate of Scotch College, where he was Captain of Performing Arts, and achieved Dux of Combined Studies. Since establishing Promise Adelaide in 2014, he has provided opportunities for over 100 young performers whilst raising in excess of $19,000 for charity.

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