Adelaide Festival 2021 Review: Fangirls

Who: Belvoir 
What: Fangirls
When: until 14 March
Tickets: here

When I was 14, I was deep in the online Twilight and Harry Potter fandoms. This was the mid-late 2000s, where I spent days after school on Live Journal and reading fan fiction with a community of people who loved these worlds as much as me. I was a big nerd, obviously. Watching Fangirls as an adult brought me back.

Fangirls follows 14 year old Edna (Karis Oka). She loves True Connection, the world’s biggest boyband, but especially the lead singer, Harry. It feels like Harry understands her like no one else, he’s there for her like no one else, and when he sings the words “Nobody Loves You Like Me” it feels like he means it. 

With Edna’s mum (Danielle Barnes) just not understanding her, and her friends, Jules (Chika Ikogwe) and Brianna (Shubshri Kandiah), dealing with their own issues, Edna feels isolated. She’s left writing Harry fan fiction and confiding in her internet friend, Saltypringl (James Majoos). But then, Harry comes to her hometown on tour, and there’s nothing she won’t do to meet him… 

As Yve Blake’s debut musical, Fangirls is funny and messy and painful and full of love, much like the reality of life as a 14 year old girl. Friendships are strained, mums are overbearing but only because they just LOVE YOU SO MUCH, and boys have hair that they flip in just the way that makes you squirm… 

Fangirls explores the way that teenage girls have been ridiculed for their interests as long as pop culture has existed as we know it. Whether it’s girls fainting at the sight of the Beatles or sobbing at a One Direction concert, adults can’t wait to reduce them to crazy obsessed children. Yve makes an effort to point out that boys or men who feel the same about their footy team, crying when they lose the finals or being buried with a scarf, aren’t given quite the same treatment.

The cast is excellent, they truly all blow me away. Karis Oka is a standout, who brings Edna’s hearth ache and more. The chemistry between Karis and James Majoos as Saltypringl feels tangible, their intimacy in the face of the distance. Ayesha Madon, as Lily, has the most god damn amazing voice that blows the roof off the stage. The actors all embody being 14 in such an authentic way. 

The choreography by Leonard Mickelo feels at home in 2021, as if pulled directly from Tik Tok or any slumber party you’ve ever been to. The music, written by self-taught composer Yve, is bubbly, managing to be both uplifting and somber at times. If I didn’t know any better, I’d believe it to be by Harry himself. With the mid-musical concert by the one and only True Connection, we become giddy in the audience, cheering on Harry and singing along.

The staging is very effective, with a glitter floor and blocks of screens at the back that animate with each scene. Whether they place us in Edna’s bedroom, have the face of 100 Harry stans singing or crying in sync, or sing along with a song in big, bold words, they help situate the story in the present. 

Fangirls is utterly unhinged in the most wonderful way. The ending is strange, somewhat abrupt, but really, how else could it end? Despite this, it’s full of joy. Fangirls celebrates the power of teenage girls and the enthusiasm and energy that they bring to the world. 

4 and a half stars

— Natalie Carfora

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