Have you ever loved something so much that it took over your world, pushing things like family and school into subplots and background information to the fateful love story at the centre of it all? Have you ever felt that way about someone you’ve never met? Never seen or touched in real life? Someone who doesn’t know you exist? That overwhelming, all consuming sensation is called being a fangirl.
This new Australian musical originally commissioned and developed by ATYP, written, composed, and starring Yve Blake is like stepping into another world, perhaps completely foreign or all too comfortable, a fanfiction fantasy come to life. Edna (Blake) is in love with Harry (Aydan), one fifth of British boy band True Connection. His face decorates her bedroom, his songs narrate her life, and her dream of one day meeting him and opening his world to her love hangs over every waking moment. Like a gift from the very heavens above, the band extend their tour to Australia, landing in Edna’s home town and allowing her to fulfil her destiny of rescuing Harry from his obsessive fans and oppressive management, never minding the sacrifice of her friends, her mother, and her perfectly normal teenage life.
David Fleischer’s set design is uses large back screens to translate between real and digital spaces frequently displaying True Connection fan vlogs to represent the scope of the fandom’s global reach before pivoting to the personal spaces of the teen girls’ bedrooms. Throughout the quieter moments of the production, the screens displayed shots of glittering streamers or digitised bubble patterns like a laptop screensaver, waiting to come alive when Edna logged on.
Fangirls is about bringing the spectacular fantasy of teen girls’ inner lives to the stage in bright and bold ways. Lighting design from Emma Valente and sound design from Michael Waters captures the enormous fun and flair of Blake’s lyrics with dramatic crashes and flashes and a willingness to do the utmost, even bringing a pop concert to Belvoir. Choreography from Leonard Mickelo is clever and manages to be both aware of its silliness and earnestly performative when the situation most suits. A stand-out piece included not only a fan for maximum hair involvement but also a fully holographic dancer formation.
What is so remarkable about this production is the joy it finds in recognising the complexity of girlhood from the double-standards of being sold a product like a boyband and then being told you’re silly for loving it to the difficulty of navigating the teen years, coming into your own and hitting all the speed bumps along the way. There is a honesty and authenticity to this depiction of teens as autonomous beings worthy of being taken seriously found in Blake’s script and Paige Rattray’s direction. Rattray seems to find room for elevation and excitement in every detail and invites the audience to enjoy these heightened emotions like they were 14 again.
There’s also a lot of heart in the characterisations of Edna, her single mum (Sharon Millerchip), her school friends, and her fandom community. Edna is experiencing huge knocks to her sense of self and security instigated by her friend Jules (Chika Ikogwe), a bit of a frenemy, and equally unsure Brianna (Kimberley Hodgson). This threesome provides the majority of the cringy recognition of schoolyard drama and the devastating effects of your secret online life leaking into reality but also the wholesome capacity for forgiveness in friendship. Ikogwe’s Jules even in her cruelty is fully-fleshed with divorced parents and a boyfriend-complex while Hodgson is perfectly balanced in her characterisation as the meek mediator of her friendship group with little recognition of her own insecurities.
Being a teen and being a fan of something are both about feeling deeply. Combining the two is the best of both worlds: the need for recognition and an overwhelming love. Like Fangirls says, it’s never really about the boy, it’s about feeling bigger than yourself in having your love and joy reflected back at you from a community that understands. Whether you’ve been a fangirl before or not, this production welcomes you into the wonderful world for a night.
Fangirls is running at Belvoir’s Upstairs Theatre from October 12th – November 10th