Review by Emily Savage
Charmingly awkward, funny and with hallucinatory surrealness, Windmill Theatre Company’s Girl Asleep returns to the stage 5 years after its first performance. The play originally premiered at the 2014 Adelaide Festival before being adapted for the screen in a film described as a stylistic fusion of “Napoleon Dynamite”, “Muriel’s Wedding” and “Where the Wild Things Are”. Rosemary Myers directs this warm Australian coming of age tale and spotlights the Windmill Theatre brand of whimsy on stage.
Set in 1970s Adelaide, Girl Asleep begins on the verge of Greta Driscoll’s (Ellen Steele) 15th birthday. Our unexpected hero teeters between the worlds of childhood fantasy and adulthood, old and new schools, with only exuberant new friend Elliot (Antoine Jelk) at her side. Just as Greta thinks she has survived an onslaught by mean girl duo Jade (Sheridan Harbridge) and Umber (Amber McMahon), ‘cool mum’ Janet (McMahon) and living incarnation of a dad joke Conrad (Mathew Whittet, who is also the writer) reveal they are throwing her a ‘Sweet 15th’ with her whole class already invited. Meanwhile, sister Genevieve (Harbridge) is far too preoccupied with a love of Serge Gainsbourg to provide much support. Greta finally decides to face the party head-on, only to be plunged into a literal adolescent nightmare that brings the ominous chaos of her subconscious imagination to light in a weird and wonderful rite-of-passage.
The six-person cast plays a diverse range of eccentric fantastical characters, in addition to the main core. Antoine Jelk’s energetic performance as Elliot was a particular standout, but the whole cast of actors shine in their comedic roles.
Jonathon Oxlade’s elaborate production design in partnership with Luke Smiles’ original 70s themed soundtrack also gives the performance a whimsical liveliness of its own. The design swings between eccentric 70s decor fit with purple floral wallpaper and characters donning powder blue suits, a fairytale fever dreamscape, and a strange place that sits somewhere in between. The destabilising surrealness of the dream sequence, with a wallpaper covered horse, origami Finnish pen pal, ice queen, and saliva goblin, is rendered even more hilariously absurd on stage.
Greta’s journey shows us the surrealness that seeps out of the adolescent rift between childhood fantasy and the adult world with changing relationships in tow. With equal measures of absurdity and familiarity, the play will be enjoyed by teenagers and adults alike.
Girl Asleep runs until the 21st of September at the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Space Theatre.