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  • Written by Catherine Campbell, Lecturer, Performing Arts, UniSA Creative, University of South Australia
New Aussie play Hits reclaims the rush of first concerts and band culture for young women

It is always wonderful to see a new Australian play, and to see one by a female playwright with a majority female cast and creative team is a thrill. Hits, by multi-talented director/writer/co-producer Rebecca Meston, turns up the volume on home-grown theatre and transforms the black box Space Theatre into a band venue of the ’80s and ’90s.

Seated at cabaret tables, the audience becomes part of a live music concert: loud music blares, mosh-pit actors enter from the audience, and we meet Rhiannon (Ren Williams, with wonderful depth and energy), a young high school kid clutching an LP record and singing to her imagined fans – into her pink hairbrush.

Hits reclaims the rush of first concerts and band culture for young women, following Rhiannon from stultifying suburban teen angst to the highs and homecomings of 1993 and the Big Day Out, accompanied by a soundtrack of bangers and easy-listening radio hits.

Over the course of the play we watch Rhiannon grow from a misfit dorky kid, raised by her “so embarrassing” single mum, to a young adult who discovers her home in music. Williams’ nuanced performance is a highlight and carries this story with joy.

A small ensemble, a large cast of characters

The 13 other characters are played by an impressive ensemble of three.

Emma Beech as Rhiannon’s mum, Linda, deftly deals some of the best comedy one-liners in the show, dressed in vintage taffeta no less. Her mean girl Meels is all-too-familiar as the high school bully who calls the shots and decides what’s cool and who is a loser.

A mum and daughter on stage.
Emma Beech delivers some of the best one-liners in the show, in taffeta no less. Morgan Sette

Beech and Williams create a beautifully flawed relationship between the confused teen and her struggling mum.

As Suzie, the cool friend we all wish we had, Annabel Matheson is a delight, a Rhonda to Rhiannon’s Muriel, and the embodiment of women standing up to male power. Her other characters, “mean girl” Bee and silent Sizzler waiter, are glorious.

Eddie Morrison plays all the male characters, from the over-eager schoolkids and band fans, to a range of sleazy men from the ’80s and ’90s. He relishes portraying full-of-himself radio DJ Barry and the predatory band manager, eliciting groans and shudders from the audience.

Dancing in the mosh pit

Students from Flinders Drama Centre provide the show with its chorus in mosh-pitting concert goers: there, the dance floor devotees sometimes morph into a kind of ghostly extension of Rhiannon’s dreams or emotions.

Erin Fowler’s choreography creates beautiful and simple moments where the mosh pit crowd stamp or lean out on angles, or daggy dance floor sequences. Linda is “reeled in” by her date; Rhiannon stage dives and crowd surfs. Dynamic direction and use of space sees actors enter and exit from the audience as well as side stage; a central set of steps becomes a bus, or a transcendent moment on a crowded dance floor.

A woman crowd surfs. Erin Fowler’s choreography creates beautiful and simple moments. Morgan Sette

Lighting design by Mark Oakley creates much with little, giving us rock concert cross beams and intimate isolated parts of the stage, picking out Rhiannon in bright light among shadowy dancers.

Jason Sweeney’s inventive sound design gives us blaring radio hits, stadium mic echo, insistently present songs at low volume under scenes, throbbing beats and crowd noise.

Ali Jones’ set places us on a band stage, the platform doubling as a seat. Two small tables become Linda and Rhiannon’s house, the record shop, backstage and, in a wonderfully sad-but-hilarious scene, a table at Sizzler. Her costumes are a fun mash-up of vintage, awkwardly recognisable ’90s looks and the never-changing unflattering school uniforms.

Finding our way forward

Hits could be a fabulous show for high schools and young adults, perhaps developing the shy male school friend character to stand up to the mean girls to give yet more empowerment.

There are moments where the pace of the production slows too much, which may change with more runs in front of an audience and possibly some further editing of the script. There are also some moments where the quieter, more intimate dialogue is hard to hear from the tables at the back of the audience, in part a result of the massive volume contrast between recorded music at concert levels and listening to the spoken voice.

A woman sits down next to a drum kit. Ren Williams performs with wonderful depth and energy. Morgan Sette

While ably staged at the Space Theatre, this piece would be amazing to see in an actual live music venue, and will hopefully be developed further for touring.

Meston has an excellent ear for the cadences of teen-speak and bitchy schoolgirl gossip, and a deep understanding of the almost religious experience of concerts. There are plenty of comic moments from a cast mining the exchanges and phrasing for every laugh.

Meston deftly repositions women as the creators and consumers of band culture, as we follow the triumph of Suze and Rhiannon making their own way in a male-dominated world.

Hits is at the Adelaide Festival Centre until July 6.

Authors: Catherine Campbell, Lecturer, Performing Arts, UniSA Creative, University of South Australia

Read more https://theconversation.com/new-aussie-play-hits-reclaims-the-rush-of-first-concerts-and-band-culture-for-young-women-233664

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