Review | Laura Money
Aaah, summer holidays – there’s nothing like them. Packing up the car, getting a reading pile going, finding an alien lifeform and getting caught up in government espionage – you know, the usual! The Summer of Our Lives is the perfect crossover of ET and The Castle with a blistering soundtrack akin to Heathers the Musical. Writer Tyler Jacob Jones flexes his talent with this sharply written script and cohesive, catchy book. Each song blends classic musical theatre tropes with a lean in to the camp of both B movies and 90s sci fi nostalgia – it’s like Little Shop of Horrors downunder, and we’re absolutely here for it.
Jones stamps this show with a huge ‘Made in Perth’ marker and honestly, it’s just awesome. The references to travelling down south to ‘Dunsbridge’ and always getting fish and chips when you don’t catch enough takes this reviewer straight back to her childhood and all the warm fuzzies associated with it. Through Sally Phipps‘ set and costume design The Summer of Our Lives is essentially a giant chatterbox of a nostalgia hit. The costuming is particularly excellent – Erin Jay Hutchinson embodies the quintessential 90s Mum on holiday with her peach and pastel pallette, Mum shorts and 90s trendy Monica from Playschool short do, Elliot Peacock leans in more to the 1960s comic book geek but that tracks for his storyline, Emily Semple is ridiculously adorable in her pastel pink overalls (I think every girl growing up in the 90s had a pair of those!) and Nick Maclaine is just perfection – he looks like every awkward picture of your Dad from 1992 when he was still young enough to get away with shorts but probably shouldn’t have – and those glasses are bang on point. From the louvered cupboard doors to the retro table and chairs, the set is so familiar you’d be hardpressed not to dump your schoolbag on stage and call out to Mum to find out if dinner tonight is going to be lamb cutlets or apricot chicken!
Much like Little Shop of Horrors, this show celebrates alien movie tropes except this time it’s the 90s – it features a young family healing together after the death of the father, a hidden alien found by a small child and then kept secret, spies and conspiracy theorists, and a lot more gore than is necessary. Each element is writ large, conflating the original and placing it at the forefront of the stage. Director, Katt Osbourne has the actors utilising every bit of the stage and cleverly reimagines set pieces to create a picture in our minds. The dining table becomes the car, and combined with excellent lighting design by Peter Young and brilliant comic timing a mythical car chase scene steals the show – until the scene-stealing finale of course. Osbourne’s direction of the alien is particularly inspired – he is operated by puppeteer Tristan McInnes – allowing him to fly about the stage and manipulate objects. Everyone just suspends disbelief as McInnes moves objects through the air and it’s just so much fun, especially when the characters act as if it were an invisible force.
Each actor is phenomenal – no exceptions! Between Semple’s aggressive tirade against ants and teachers and Ned her heartwarming connection to her new alien friend and reconcilliation with her Mum is realistic and tender. She pulls off playing a kid by playing it straight and not faltering – it’s a great performance. Peacock as Arthur is the everyman you sympathise with – he sings with heart and maintains his quirky character throughout. His undeniable chemistry with the hilarious Tory Kendrick as the American Glance sparks as they compliment each other well. Kendrick slinks onto the stage with grace and humour – a Taylor Swift lookalike with a brilliant voice. Of course, no family would be complete without a loveable Mum – this is really the best role Erin Jay Hutchinson has played. She takes the grieving Mum, Bev and navigates her through the death of her husband, the misunderstanding of her kids, the spark of new love, and the understanding that she doesn’t need it all while rocking Mum jeans and super cool hair. Hutchinson is brilliant! Her Mum-isms are hilarious and her voice is great, she even gets a few sad moments and touching songs as well as some of the funniest lines in the show. Speaking of funny lines – all hail Nick Maclaine! Wow, is this the funniest role in the show or what? Ned is the dorkiest, church going, wannabe stepdad going and Maclaine’s portrayal of him is *chef’s kiss!* Not only does he lean in entirely to the dork side, Maclaine’s face turns rubber as he finds himself losing control of the ‘loveable’ persona to reveal the true Ned. Although (spoiler alert) he probably doesn’t deserve his fate in the end. (Although that’s what makes this show so great – it doesn’t shy away from letting everything go to hell in a handbasket.)
The Summer of Our Lives is pretty much the perfect musical. It has catchy songs, from the title piece to ‘kill all the ants’ and the fun, irreverant duo ‘let’s do something stupid’ and the sheer musicality of five way songs that express individual motivations while being a cohesive whole is brilliant. The show unravels into perfect chaos, further proving that nostalgia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – there is absolutely no going back. Let’s hope this show gets picked up nationally because it really is the perfect homage to all things 90s with killer tunes, hilarious dialogue, and poignant heartfelt moments – it’s the stage show of our lives.