Like a Virgin by Gordon Steel is described as being a romp through the bubblegum years of teenage life, and the cast of Cue Theatre's production of this play certainly make sure the audience are taken on a romp through the highs and lows of the life of two irrepressible teenagers, Angela and Maxine, living in 90s Britain.
The play, directed by Sharren Read, is currently playing at Inglewood's Cue Theatre until October 24, and stars Michelle Rawlinson as Angela and Alex Sheehan as Maxine, the teenagers at the centre of the drama.
Obsessed with pop music and their dreams of making it as pop singers themselves, the two characters spend much of the first act dancing, lip-syncing and singing into hairbrushes as they skive off school, make dubious fashion choices in the style of their pop idols and, of course, consider their parents to be embarrassingly hopeless and old.
Given I myself spent my teenage years in 90s Britain, and an embarrassingly large amount of those years singing into my own hairbrush microphone, donning an appalling range of lace gloves, fishnet or lace tights and the occasional bustier top, the play was guaranteed to entertain me from the start.
It was one wave of nostalgia after the other during the first half of the play, as the audience watch Angela and her best friend Maxine navigate through all the angst and heartache of teenage life. With the programme lacking a synopsis of the play, however, that nostalgia was served with a side of slight confusion at times as I struggled to work out the connection between some of the characters on stage. Once I realised that Angela called her mother Viv, as opposed to Mum, it made sense, but that temporary confusion was slightly distracting from the drama playing out on stage.
That drama starts early on the play, and as the opening scenes are important to later parts of the story, it would have been great had they just been a little bit clearer in their execution. One particular point of confusion for me, along with other members of the audience near me, was when Angela's parents, Ken (Tony Pearce) and Viv (Kerryn Smith) are arguing in the lounge. Designed as a flashback scene perhaps, it was hard to follow, with a teenage Angela clearly visible in her room but her parents discussing, and talking to, a much younger, invisible Angela in the lounge. This confusion grew when Ken picked up the imaginary younger child in a way that I wasn't sure he was picking up a puppy, a baby, or the 8-year-old we were told it actually was.
This one misstep was soon forgotten however as the storyline picked up pace and the actors showed us exactly why they had been cast in their particular roles. Michelle Rawlinson's Angela was perfectly played, switching between moody teen, wannabe pop star and a more grown-up and reflective Angela convincingly throughout.
The role of Angela's best friend, the irrepressible Maxine, is played by Alex Sheehan, who is perfectly cast in the role. The programme tells us it is Alex's first time on stage, but it certainly shouldn't be her last judging by her standout performance in this production.
Maxine is meant to be a motor-mouthed, vulgar yet lovable teen, and Alex delivers on this. Maxine undoubtedly also has some of the best lines in the play and Alex makes sure they aren't wasted. The energy she puts into her character pays off, and her facial expressions are spot-on throughout.
That energy is well matched by Michelle, and the show's most enjoyable moments come when the two of them are on stage together, whether they are dancing, lip-syncing or fighting.
Another one to watch in this production is Tyler McGlone, who plays the monosyllabic and curiously named Monkey, a musician with a Flintstones fetish. He might not have many words in the play, but Tyler doesn't let that stop him putting on a fantastic performance and creating a character the audience can fall in love with.
The teenage characters get the best lines in the play, while Angela's parents are left with what is, at times, a dated and one-dimensional script. They are given the challenge of portraying years of marital disharmony in just one quick opening scene, and they do their best with the script they have. The issue isn't the actors but the script itself, which doesn't give their characters enough depth or stage time to develop their characters more sympathetically.
Despite this, when they are on stage, they give it their all, with Tony Pearce making a convincingly awkward absent father when he reappears in the second act. Kerryn Smith's Viv is sure to tug on the heartstrings of every single audience member as she confronts the heartache the second act is focused on. In these later scenes, it is Kerryn's turn to shine as she takes the audience with her as she struggles to find her way. Every nervous action of hers is well played on stage and her facial expressions and body movements tell the story better than the script alone could.
Staging is simplistic yet effective in the main, although some of the scene changes are slightly too long to be perfectly smooth. Lighting is well done throughout, again simple in appearance but well thought out and effective. The wardrobe team have done a great job, making sure the highs, and more frequent lows, of 90s fashion are well represented on stage.
Overall, under the skilled direction of Sharren Read, the cast and backstage crew have put together a play that outshines its original script and will take the audience on an emotional journey. Don't be fooled by the title or the promise of bubblegum pop, it is a gritty and sad tale that will leave you wiping the tears away even as you find yourself singing along to that bubblegum music.