As Windmill Theatre Co.’s debut film Girl Asleep returns to the stage this adolescent-in-Wonderland fable proves to be more wild fun than any screen could hope to contain.
A spotlight shines down on Ellen Steele as she steps back into the role she originated in 2014 as Greta Driscoll. 14 going on 15 and starting a new, hopefully less bully-filled school, Greta’s newly struck friendship with awkward but sweet dweeb Elliott (Antoine Jelk) is a promising start. But, the arrival of mean girl twins Jade (Sheridan Harbridge) and Umber (Amber McMahon) is a reminder this new schoolyard is still a schoolyard, with all the hazards that go with it.
Worse still, the insistence of her parents, beehive-rocking mum Janet (McMahon) and Kel Knight/Ned Flanders hybrid dad Conrad (writer Matthew Whittet), on throwing a ‘sweet 15th’ party with Greta’s entire year level invites a tsunami of hormone-fuelled social turmoil and heightened feeling that promises to drag her inner awakening to the surface.
Stripped of the Wes Anderson-inspired cinematography that greased the story’s transition to the big screen, director Rosemary Myers ensures the play’s surreal and very Windmill weirdness is able to run wild as Greta’s struggle to comprehend the impending changes of puberty is realised as a fantastical quest populated by her Finnish pen pal (McMahon), a snot-covered goblin (Whittet), a spandex-clad horse (Jelk) and her own emerging sexuality personified as creepy-cool musical icon Serge Gainsbourgh (Jelk). The kitsch canvas of Jonathan Oxlade’s purple wallpapered set also brings multiple levels of humour and wonder.
While the film’s teenage cast were memorable, this ensemble of adults – all returning from past seasons of the play with the exception of Jelk – are able to be far more weird, outrageous and cartoonishly relatable in their depiction of teenage discomfort and abandon, something that makes the mid-story pivot to the fantastical land a little smoother than it does on screen.
The story also takes on a completely different atmosphere in front of a live audience, and on this night an appropriately teenage one at that. An extended sequence where party host Greta greets an endless stream new arrivals lets each actor play up to the crowd in a hilarious montage of shocker dance moves and swiftly changed daggy outfits (Dunlop Volleys, stovepipe jeans, abundant short shorts and many, many wig changes). It takes a lot of talent and dedication to be so good at such bad dancing.
From the dad jokes to the awkward romantic confessions, the gasps of shock, squirms of discomfort and moments of raucous glee that come from the crowd suggests Girl Asleep’s framing of puberty as both a dream and nightmare continues to resonate with its subject audience.
Girl Asleep was performed at Space Theatre on Thursday 12 July
Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
September 12 – 20