March 01, 2014

A familiar blend of comedy and fantasy

Adelaide Festival

Girl Asleep
By Matthew Whittet
Windmill Theatre.
Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre.
Duration 1 hours 20 minutes
February 28. Tickets $ 29 – $ 39
Bookings : BASS 131 246 or
Until March 15.

It is Greta Driscoll’s fifteenth birthday and everybody is having a great time except her. She’s in her bedroom, miserable, quarrelling with only best friend Elliot, and besieged by family and mean girls from school. Then Greta retreats into somnolence and Girl Asleep morphs into a variation of Sleeping Beauty – waiting to be awakened, not by a prince, but by her recognition that childhood is over and a new stage must begin.

Windmill Theatre’s newest production has all the bright, bold, energetic hallmarks of earlier works – Fugitive and the award winning hit, School Dance, both of which are being revived for Windmill’s Trilogy in the current Festival program. The creative team features the usual suspects: director Rosemary Myers, writer Matthew Whittet, designer Jonathan Oxlade, soundtrack creators Luke Smiles and Andrew Howard, and lighting designer Richard Vabre. They bring together a familiar blend of fantasy, comedy and gentle sentiment aimed at all audiences but especially the often-gnarly, mid-teen crowd.

Opening with a blast of sound and strobe, the production is a swirl of colour and movement from Oxlade’s jokey Seventies domestic décor patterned in bright pink regency floral, to an eclectic soundtrack ranging from Brian Eno and Suzie Quattro to the croonings of Serge Gainsbourg, especially favoured by Greta’s older sister, Genevieve. The costumes are retro-comic – Greta’s father Conrad in beige shorts and long socks, mother Janet with a copper-coloured Marge Simpson beehive do, and a whole procession of party guests in wigs and kitsch dress-ups.
As Greta, Ellen Steele anchors the play. She vividly captures the shyness and volatility of an insecure teen longing to stay in a childhood of plastic horses, origami pen-friend letters, and music boxes.

The other five cast members power through a multitude of character and costume changes. Eamonn Farren is endearing as Elliot, dorky, good-natured, and a staunch friend, Jude Henshall is believably catty as Genevieve, and creepy as Jade, one half of the nasty Hunter twins who terrorise the school. Matthew Whittet is droll as Conrad, all dad jokes and mutton chops, as well as his weird alter ego, the snot-covered Goblin. Paige Whitby plays Greta aged seven, and Amber McMahon presents a daffy comic smorgasbord as Janet, Umber Hunter, the icy Queen and Greta, the Finnish pen-friend.

Girl Asleep, like its predecessors is vivacious and begins and concludes memorably. But, despite some theatrical delights, the fantasy quest section, where Greta searches for her missing music box, is over-long and confusing and could use an edit. It would be unfortunate to let it detract from the tender truthfulness of this contemporary fable.

Murray Bramwell

“A familiar blend of comedy and fantasy” The Australian, March 4, 2014, p.12

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