Take a bag of glitter, a dozen red bulls, and thousands of pre-teen girls’ high-pitched screams and you’ve got Fangirls, a musical so rich with energy and euphoria you’ll think you’re at an actual pop concert.
It’s 2019 and fourteen-year old Australian schoolgirl Edna (playwright and composer Yve Blake) is desperately in love with Harry (Aydan from The Voice), the British dreamboat from boy-band phenomenon True Connection (a tongue-in-cheek riff on Harry Styles from One Direction). She may act, dress, decorate her room, and write fanfiction like a super-fan, but don’t call her a fan: she’s more than that. She sees past Harry’s fame and branding and loves him for who he really is. And she will do anything, anything, to meet him.
So, we are introduced to our loveable protagonist, a character that millions of girls all around the world will see themselves in. She’s joined in her love of True Connection by her schoolmates, Jules and Brianna (Chika Ikogwe and Kimberley Hodgson), as well as a gang of internet friends, including fellow fanfiction writer, Saltypringl (an pitch-perfect James Majoos). When True Connection announce an Australian tour, Edna and her friends just HAVE to be there, or their lives will, like, literally be over, and so Edna begins her quest to meet Harry, the love of her life.
Drawing on true stories about hard-core One Direction fans (like the time a fan hid in a bin for four hours to try and meet the band) Blake argues that the dedication and ingenuity of fangirls is something to be admired, not shamed. The troubling behavior brought on by cult-like fanaticism is played for laughs here, with a particularly witty number, Justice, showing a mob of schoolgirls threatening violence against anyone who hurts Harry.
The musical numbers, composed by Blake, produced by David Muratore and musically directed by Alice Chance, are a blast of pop-filled fun that mimic the boy-band hits of the 2010s, while adding witty, incisive lyrics. They are accompanied by lighting design (by Emma Valente) and projected video content (by David Fleischer and Justin Harrison) that mirror the video screens that are increasingly integral to modern pop concerts and captures the essentially digital way these teens are living their lives in 2019. The production features an ambitious level of costumes and wig changes (also designed by Fleischer) with each actor playing many different characters. Watching this take place, it occurred to me how well Fangirls would fare on Broadway with an expanded ensemble in a bigger theatre. Fangirls has definitely got the potential for bigger things, and with Blake currently developing the show for television, I can’t wait to see where it goes.
The best part of Fangirls is undoubtably the cast, who are dripping with talent. Blake brings a loveable earnestness to the role of Edna that makes you understand and justify everything she does, the way you might a little sister who has gotten into trouble. Aydan, fresh off his star-making turn on The Voice, has a slightly dodgy British accent, but he more than makes up for it with his impressive vocals and fun, hammy stage presence. Ayesha Madon, Hodgson, Majoos and Ikogwe all bring a thrilling energy, impressive vocals and great comic timing to the Belvoir stage. It is so exciting knowing that this is the next generation of musical theatre talent in Australia.
Fangirls takes great care to emphasis the way fandoms connect young people—especially young girls— all over the world. In the case of Edna, a scholarship kid at a new, fancy school, and Saltypringl, a gay teen who resorts to internet chat rooms to find friendship, the True Connection fandom provides a safe community online, where teens aren’t necessarily able to find it in real life. It’s true Blake, who recently spoke in a Ted Talk about her love of fangirls, wants audiences, and especially parents, to see fandoms for the good they can bring. Blake sees how society tends to ridicule anything that teenage girls are passionate about and wrote this show to combat the internalised misogyny that sees teen boys praised for loving their sporting idols, and teen girls dismissed for loving their favourite pop stars. Describing her show at the Ted Talk this year, Blake admitted to designing Fangirls “like a trojan horse: it appears to make fun of these young women only to smuggle them into your heart”.
And smuggle them into our hearts, she does. Watching Fangirls is like going to your first ever concert as a teen: full of laughs and thrills and giddiness. Fangirls opened to rave reviews earlier this year in Brisbane, with many audience members going back for a second show. Last Thursday night’s show was met with jubilant standing ovations, and there is already a Change.Org petition to bring it to Melbourne. I suggest you move fast, you don’t want to miss out on Fangirls.
Fangirls is on at Belvoir st Theatre until the 10th of November.