Writer: Hannah Reilly
Music: Megan Washington
Director: Hannah Reilly
The Rebel Theatre, Dawes Point
April 22 – May 22, 2022
Wonderfully funny, sweetly satirical and often heart-breaking, The Deb, winner of the 2019 Rebel Wilson Comedy Commission, is a spectacular introduction to both the Australian Theatre for Young People’s new season and ATYP’s new home in The Rebel Theatre.
The story, a bold and appealing Australian re-imagining of the Cinderella narrative, captures both the agony of teenagers’ self-doubt and their deep wish that they will be recognised and loved for the unique individuals they know themselves to be. Given the right moment, they will shine.
And for Taylah that moment is the rural Dunburn’s annual Debutante Ball. The awkward outsider (the sensational Katelin Koprivec), upon whose farmhand strength and capability her hardworking father (Drew Livingston) relies, believes, hopes, wishes that this magical event will change her life forever.
The brilliant opening scene presents us with a lovely trio of dancing maidens in white tulle and tiaras floating gracefully in the arms of their evening suited partners to an absurd choral soundtrack. The fantasy vanishes and Taylah, draped in a crocheted blanket, confides in us that “a fairy tale will come true / when she finally makes her debut”. From the first moment – wide open eyes, Australian flattened “ays” and heavy footed – she wins our hearts, and we want her to live her dream.
But Taylah has an insurmountable problem and it may need magic to resolve it. Naively, she has pinned her hopes – cruelly fostered by a snarky trio of song and dance “mean girls” (Mariah Gonzalez, Georgia Anderson, Jenna Woolley) – on being invited to the ball by high school sports hunk Brayden (Carlo Boumouglbay). To their glee he rudely rebuffs Taylah’s nervous overture and Shell (a mousey Tara Morice with maybe magical red shoes) the event organiser, while she thinks Taylah “a nice girl” is adamant. There can be no exception to the rule that a girl must have a partner to be a deb.
Taylah’s despair is mitigated by the unexpected and possibly magical arrival of Maeve (Charlotte McInnes), Taylah’s cool city cousin. Complete with pout, swishy hair, crop top, feminist slogans and matching luggage she looks like a girl with an answer or two. However, it is not long before we learn she is in disguise and beneath her superior air and media-obsessed fantasies, she too longs to be loved for herself alone. She warms to the puppy like Taylah, tries to teach her dorky cousin some dance moves, and deigns to accept an uncool homemade friendship band.
We can guess where we are heading but the journey is immensely entertaining, and praise must go to Hannah Reilly and Megan Washington’s remarkable song list as well as to
Sally Dashwood’s joyous choreography. Koprivec lights up the stage with her rendition of the passionate Coming Out and both she and McInnes probably leave many feeling tearful after their moving In the Spotlight. The penultimate song, My Own Kind of Me performed by Taylah will surely become a new teenage anthem.
Directed with panache by Reilly, The Deb offers the audience both young and old an uplifting and optimistic theatrical experience. Original, fresh and sparkling it acknowledges the pain of exclusion but celebrates the magic of individual resilience.