School Dance

Windmill Theatre. Space Theatre. 7 Mar 2012

Yes, the school dance.  It’s hard to believe, I know, but I was one of the nerds too shy to ask girls to dance in high school and I absolutely hated and avoided the school dance.  Grease was like a fantasy to me.  I even asked a woman to dance 10 years ago at a club, and she said, “I already am.”  I winced when I heard this line in the play.

Our nerdy heroes, played with perspicuity by co-creators Matthew Whittet, Jonathon Oxlade and Luke Smiles, cover the broad spectrum of nerdiness in looks and deficiencies.

What I loved about this show is the lesson.  It’s so easy to disappear with shyness, by not asking questions, by settling for less or letting things go and ultimately all of these things are about being afraid.  It never occurred to me that such people actually all go to the same place, but I did know that you are doomed to stay there unless you do something heroic, which often arises when you find something you really want.  I was dismayed at the beginning with the stereotyping of the unconfident teens, but they grow in stature in the arc of the story, once again confirming that the only ordinary people are the people you don’t know.

The guys are highly talented and no means of theatrical expression was beyond them.  Their services were immeasurably augmented by the superb Amber McMahon who plays a mittful of exotic persona as spritely as a pixie (Gabrielle Nankivell – movement).    

The production is lavishly and lovingly produced with exotic costuming by Jonathan Oxlade and innovative animation by Chris More.  Luke Smiles’ clever soundscape and equally innovative aural devices were complimented by Richard Vabre’s complex lighting plot.  Oxlade’s school dance set is very real with nifty features but very little of the action takes place at the school dance.  Matthew Whittet introduced a panoply of TV and movie references and characters that might even be antiquated to his largely early teens crowd, and I hope Windmill has paid their royalties.  Not to mention the miraculous mix of cliché and witty dialogue.  Director Rosemary Myers and her co-devisers have certainly assembled a vivid, fast-paced and fabulously twisted journey full of surprises and familiar references.

What I didn’t like was the bully character played by Jim Rose.  His violence upon the TellyTubby was ugly, gratuitous and did not further the plot.  Whittet’s story was typical male fantasy from Hollywood where the guys have adventures and save damsels in distress.  That’s the ego serving the id, and id’s alright by me in School Dance.

David Grybowski

When: 3 to 10 Mar
Where: Space Theatre – Adelaide Festival Centre