The Girlie Show, set in the lead-up to Madonna’s 1993 world tour of the same name, is an absolute gem. From prolific Sydney playwright Wayne Tunks (37 Ways to Say I'm Gay, Fag Boy & The Married Guy), it follows a group of young Madonna fans who meet while camping out in line for tickets to the long-awaited tour. Bonding over their shared love for the Material Girl, they become friends and the play charts the events of their lives between buying the tickets and the date of the concert.
With a sharp script and a talented cast, the play is a beautiful evocation of the dramas of youth. The newfound friends, spanning the ages of 16 to 21, are all at pivotal moments in their life, trying to navigate the early, often fumbling, steps in identity formation and self expression.
Lovably awkward Jason (Oliver Bailey) is quietly dealing with the emotional turmoil of maybe being gay. Meanwhile Mary (played with great verve by Caitlyn Spears) is also discovering boys, an emotional journey no less complicated for her while trying to keep a spotless image for her strict religious parents. Derek (Adam Noviello), at the worldly age of 20, with his own flat and live-in boyfriend, seems so mature but has troubles of his own, while the youngest in the group, Sam (Adam Haylock), is trying so desperately to be independent he’s putting himself in danger. Meanwhile, everything’s going right for singer Natalie (Charlotte Fox), until it looks like career success might come at a price.
There are beautiful synchronicities and contrasts at work and the characters have the ring of truth about them, like they’re people you’ve known or might have met. Family dynamics are particularly well realised and the actors playing the parents (Geoff Wallis, Perri Cummings and Tunks himself) bring a lot of depth to their roles.
The script is tight, not wasting a single word. Each scene does exactly what it needs to move the story forward, with the device of being set in the lead-up to the concert creating an inherent build to dramatic climax. Fast-paced and witty, with a sometimes playful attitude to stage conventions, it delivers great comedy, while the dramatic turns are packed with force.
One thing I love about this show is how utterly it draws me in. I am emotionally engaged the whole time, intensely feeling the joy of each success, the shock of each setback. I even find myself re-experiencing the youthful sense of outrage at how unfair parents are.
It helps in evoking the emotions of youth that the early 90s setting has been so lovingly portrayed. The fashion of the time is recreated in a way that feels natural, not overdone as if often the temptation in retro costuming, and there is a killer memory-lane soundtrack. Tunks is writing about the time of his own youth – and clearly his own passion for Madonna’s music – and there is a real sense of honesty driving this play which makes its impact that much stronger.
Sometimes art can touch you so deeply that it defines your friendships, helps you define yourself and makes you prepared to do crazy things like sit in a ticket line all night, defy authority figures, risk everything. This show beautifully expresses that aspect of music and in doing so, also reminds you how vibrant and touching theatre can be. It is a tremendous play, satisfying on every level. I might even say it was immaculate.
Tunks Productions presents
The Girlie Show
by Wayne Tunks
Directed by Josh Karlik
Venue: La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond St, Carlton
Dates: 20 – 31 January 2016
Tickets: $25 – $15
Bookings: www.lamama.com.au | 03 9347 6142
Part of the 2016 Midsumma Festival