Appropriately enough for the season, Jagged Little Pill begins with Healy family matriarch, Mary Jane, writing her annul family Christmas letter. It’s a cheerful, shallow, self centred missive, full of self congratulatory aspiration, a varnish of truth providing a veneer of social status and domestic bliss.
Inspired by the seminal rock album of the same name by seven-time Grammy Award winner Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill is a three hour plunge into opioid abuse and addiction, sexual abuse and porn addiction, work/life balance, and identity politics.
Ignited by Morissette’s groundbreaking lyrics and music from scorch songs such as “You Oughta Know,” “Head Over Feet,” “Hand In My Pocket,” and “Ironic”, to brand new songs written for the show, Jagged Little Pill is written by Tony and Academy Award-winner Diablo Cody and directed by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus.
Natalie Bassingthwaighte stars in the lead role of Mary Jane Healy, a brittle and embattled woman whose defence mechanisms triggered by sexual trauma evolve into offence positions, an overcompensation of striving for the perfect, the personification of the lyric from the eponymous song, Mary Jane. The last chance streetcar went off the track and you’re on it.
Tim Draxl as her harried sixty hour a week workaholic husband Steve hits all the right notes of baffled breadwinner desperately trying to reconnect with his increasingly estranged spouse.
Making an indelible impact with her musical theatre debut, Emily Nkomo stars as Frankie, outstanding in the role of the socially aware and emotionally conflicted adopted daughter of Mary Jane and Steve.
Fresh from originating the lead role of Muriel in Muriel’s Wedding the Musical, Maggie McKenna is mightily impressive as Jo, who belts out a blistering rendition of You Oughta Know, which becomes an unofficial anthem of the show, while emerging stage and theatre performer Grace Miell energises Bella, the party girl who falls prey to a preppy predator, elevating her from victim to survivor in a brace of songs, Predator and No.
Technically slick, kudos must go to the scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez, Lighting Design by Justin Townsend and video design Lucy Mackinnon. The evocation of a crime scene and a church particularly impressive.
For all its efficacy of talent, Jagged Little Pill remains a jagged little pill to swallow. Its length labours into lethargy, and the choreography seems like padding, dissociated from the narrative, somewhat out of step, and the least creative aspect of the show.
The view at the end is blurred by sentimentality but Jagged Little Pill delivers, albeit in fits and starts, an emotionally enlarged and morally rousing experience.
Jagged Little Pill
lyrics Alanis Morissette | music Alanis Morissette & Glen Ballard | book Diablo Cody
Director Diane Paulus
Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney
Dates: 2 – 9 December 2021