School Dance by Matthew Whittet
Directed by Darlene Mohekey
Review date: 22nd March 2017
I was expecting a flashy high standard production when I entered the Centrepoint Theatre last night to see School Dance. It promised to be eighties, fun, colourful, and centered around the horrific teenage angst that most of us would have experienced at high school- especially at the school dance. It seemed like a great opportunity to take my young teenage daughter along in hopes that she could see a lot of the stuff she’s experiencing right now in a more comical and abstract light. It was a risk, maybe she’d think the eighties were really stupid and that the teenage dramatics were really off base.
I was immediately transported to the eighties before I’d even entered the theatre as the foyer had been ever so slightly school-dancified and Madonna’s eighties ballad ‘Material Girl’ could be heard over the babble of an energised audience. There was even a gaudy green cocktail available at the bar called something like ‘electric lemonade’.
The set really grabs you and locates you firmly in a typical school hall, it was all so familiar and brought a sweep of nostalgia over me. It’s hard to describe how the rest of it all unravelled. It’s like I’d been shoved in a hairspray aerosol with every amazing thing from the eighties, shaken up and then sprayed out in joyous streams of music and fluorescent colours. There is so much great content to experience in this high energy show and some of it simply must be enjoyed as a surprise.
The story opens with an off-stage narrator (which I found out afterwards was actually pre-recorded, and was the voice of director Darlene Mohekey) who plays an interesting role throughout most of the play. There are no adults (well actually they are all adults playing child characters) in the play and it can be safely assumed due to the at times erratic and unorthodox behaviour of the narrator- that they too are still somewhat immature.
Kyle Chuen takes to the stage first as teen loser Matt, and is soon joined by his mate Luke played by Chris Symon who the narrator describes as a ‘loser of a different kind’. When Jonathon (Andrew Paterson) arrives the boys prove to be a team of comic wonderfulness. These guys joined forces and really made the most of the material they had to work with. From geeky disco dancing to talk of girls and fear of bullies these guys had a lot of fun bringing the horrors of the hormonal teenage boy to life.
Bronwyn Turei’s first outing on stage for the night as one of four characters she played was fantastic. She epitomised the overly dramatic, attention seeking, teenage girl showing off in front of boys. It must have been a tough gig to remember which person she was, as she went through multiple costume changes and came out with four very different personas. Sporting a perm, headband , fluorescent clothes and a passion for lip gloss Turei’s depiction of Matt’s love interest Hannah – a petulant teenage girl - was ‘awesome’!
The story takes an unexpected sci-fi turn and you can catch a whiff of many eighties movies in the theme of this play. I spotted some ET, Back to the Future, Gremlins, Smurfs and Care Bears tones to name a few, all ingeniously woven in to a more serious back story. This offers some magic moments from a hilarious and skilful slow mo scene, to an energetic BMX scene. The set designed by Ian Harman is an absolute treat, it is truly remarkable what was hidden away behind an already great set.
With music having the ability to transport you to another time and place School Dance will fill your senses with eighties nostalgia. Wake me up before you go-go, Material Girl, the Magnum PI theme song - I’m going to leave the others for a surprise but trust me- they’re great.
A lot of thought has been put into collecting and using era appropriate props. You’ll see Rubik’s Cubes, plastic jewellery, lots of bright clothing, blue eyeshadow, viewmasters and more. There’s a lot more – but seeing is believing. What was missing, refreshingly, was mobile phones, computers and facebook, a true reflection of the life of a teenager in the eighties.
This production is of exceptional quality: great set, great music, great acting, great lighting, great costumes; all of it working together to produce a great overall experience. It truly was a joy to watch. So how did my teenage daughter like it? She said “it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen” and “every single part of it was amazing”. This is a production of wide appeal.
I was fortunate to stay afterwards for the Q&A session (something Centrepoint does on the first Wednesday night showing so that you can engage with the actors and director of the show). It felt like a real privilege to get the opportunity to hear how they worked together to produce their unique version of School Dance. Director Darlene Mohekey offered insights into their processes and behind the scenes activities including the incredibly large amount of sound bytes the skilled sound engineer had to juggle.
Sadly I had to go back to the future and leave School Dance behind, but it’s still there at Centrepoint waiting to take you back to the eighties!