Reviews, Stage, Theatre

Girl Asleep review (Belvoir, Sydney)

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Before writer Matthew Whittet and director Rosemary Myers’ Girl Asleep was a hit indie Australian film, it was a play from Adelaide’s Windmill Theatre Company, one of the country’s leading forces in theatre for young people. The play premiered at the 2014 Adelaide Festival to strong reviews and less than two years later was turned into a film which has since been seen all around the world.

Now, Sydney audiences get to see the original stage version of this mythical and mystical tale about the socially awkward ’70s teen Greta’s 15th birthday party, and it seems to have lost little of its whimsy over the last two years.

Greta (Ellen Steele) is on the cusp of adulthood and has just moved to a new school. She was outgoing as a younger child, but fear has since set in, and she finds it very difficult to make new friends. Thankfully Elliott (Dylan Young), whose picture you might imagine you’d find next to the word “geek” in an illustrated dictionary, bounds up to Greta and strikes up a conversation. The pair immediately become close friends — they don’t need anybody else.

Soon after, Greta is horrified to discover that her overly enthusiastic mother Janet (Amber McMahon) has decided to throw a 15th birthday party and invited … quite a few people from Greta’s school.

The party erupts in a flurry of colour and movement and disco, but when two mean girls from school turn up, things take a turn for the worse.

Greta tumbles down a rabbit hole, venturing into a world of goblins and ice queens as she searches for that one thing that might free her and help her through this nightmare of an adolescence.

Girl Asleep might have a cast of just six performers (including writer Whittet as Greta’s father Conrad, who puts the “dad” in “dad joke”) but it becomes epic in scale, with most of the actors stepping into all variety of characters.

There are strong performances all around, but the real stars of this production are Amber McMahon and Sheridan Harbridge, two wonderful and distinctive comedic actors who always craft clearly defined and surprisingly real characters.

Jonathan Oxlade’s design is the other clear star: the stage floor covered in thick carpet and every other surface covered in bold purple wallpaper. The costumes have the same quintessential ’70s flavour, exaggerated to great comedic effect.

Of course, the play now invites comparisons with the film version and there are some things the play does better: the dream sequence, which still feels a little unruly, is more sharply focused on stage. There are similarly things the film does better: the relationship between Elliott and Greta feels much more organic and sweet with younger actors in those roles.

And although this play is pitched firmly at a younger crowd, it’s broadly and obviously entertaining for most audiences. Its central themes about growing up and being true to oneself might be fairly simple, but those themes are explored with a sophisticated and complex execution.

It’s a wonderful treat for any young teens in your life (or just your inner teen).

[box]Girl Asleep is at the Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir until December 24

Featured image by Lisa Tomasetti[/box]

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