The girls hand out the latest Shonnon Girls High newsletter as the audience enters, with Ally (Alice May Connolly) inquiring about our interest in auditioning for this year’s Stoge Chollonge team. Receiving the programme-come-newsletters is our very first taste of audience interaction, and it is subtle enough to invite audience members less open to such interaction. These girls are looking for the best of the best since they are the returning champions of the last few years – and the performance date of Stoge Chollonge 2006 is fast approaching.
The creative team (Stoge Chollonge Committee 2006) has done an excellent job of creating high schoolers straight out of ‘06. The play is loaded with mid-noughties references, notably the jelly bracelets and flip-top cell-phones, which proves the amount of research and reminiscing done by Hilary Penwarden and her collaborators. When the audience first meets the two boys, Zach and Darren (Sam Irwin and Hilary Penwarden* respectively), the sound of spray deodorant pairs with their introductory dance – and oh boy did Lynx Body Spray exist in the classrooms of ‘06!
The interaction between the actors on stage is evidence of hard work in the rehearsal room: no one feels misplaced and the actors fit together cohesively. As an audience member, there is always a ‘feel good’ kind of feeling when a cast meshes together so well, and I commend Penwarden for facilitating such a feeling. Chemistry is strong across the board, but moments like Alana (Alayne Dick) and Darren learning their partner dance, and Zach and Ally with theirs, really hits the stress, hope, and awkwardness of being a teenager home.
Most of the characters receive little monologue-like interludes. Jess (Josephine Byrnes) confides in her audience about how nervous she is about being a team leader. Of course, the only way for her to sate this insecurity is to ask us for reassurance. Here is another instance of audience interaction, and while it is a step above handing out programmes, it is not intimidating. Stoge Chollonge eases their audience in just a little bit at a time, which makes viewers feel safe about getting more involved later in the show. Not every character receives these moments, but this does not bother the audience, the other characters receive segments in pairs, which provides as much detail and insight into their characters as the monologues provide.
Watching the characters stumble together their performance piece for Stoge Chollonge, I remember my own high school productions… and how bad they really were! Many design choices point and laugh at the pitfalls of high school theatre/performance, but the show never feels amateurish. Isadora Lao’s lighting design is a clear example. Her use of bold colours for obvious emotional undertones, like a deep blue for sadness and a piercing red for death, is all too familiar, but it never feels awkward or bad. Lucas Neal’s set design establishes setting, dotted with little touches that put the audience in touch with their ‘06 selves, the bathroom wall tagged with “Amanda Bynes was here, 2006”, for example. Aaron Pyke’s music choices assist the play’s atmosphere further, and it is refreshing to indulge in some old hits once again. I must make note of the wondrous choreography throughout the show, courtesy of Jacob Brown. The dance sequences are well-rehearsed and energetic. They, too, feel like high schooler dance moves but feel polished and realised as opposed to thrown-together and inept. Each dance sequence is clear, purposeful, and entertaining. Liam Kelly also garners special mention here, for his original composition I’m High. I cannot imagine the drug-trip dance number being the same without it.
What separates Stoge Chollonge 2006 from just another Fringe comedy is the show’s balance between humour, nostalgia, and purpose. I cannot sum it up better than Penwarden herself: “most of us never really leave our childhoods behind. Our inner teenagers are a constant companion.” The actors are aware of their status as 20-somethings playing sixteen-year-olds, and this only betters the show. For this allows the audience to gaze into the past, to reminisce about one’s time as a teenager. Stoge Chollonge 2006 takes its audience through the ups and downs of being a teenager: from experimenting with drugs to masturbation to failure and everything in-between.
Their season runs only until February 14, and you can book tickets through BATS Theatre website – this is not a show to miss m8z!
*From the programme on Opening Night: “Due to unforeseen circumstances, Aaron Pyke’s character (Darren Dyke) will be played by Hilary Penwarden.”