REVIEW: MAD ON HER (Arts Theatre) ★★

Turning back time to the decade that brought us some of the most universally loved pop tunes ever composed, Mad On Her invites us on to the dance floor for a celebration of shoulder pads, synths and scrunchies. The newest show from BlackDeer Productions, it’s a whirlpool of 80s classics. Stitching the songs into a story of young love, friendship and heartbreak, it valiantly breaks away from the pack of other jukebox musicals and embraces an entire decade of songs, rather than celebrating one artist’s work. Sadly, the mammoth task of condensing the vast success of 80s pop into 2 hours proves a steep hill to climb for this production.

In a small town with not much in the way of adventure and opportunity, best friends Donna and Tina boogie on down to Lynn’s Bar to let their hair down. The place is packed with partygoers, complete with padded shoulders, silk shirts and…spandex, ready to throw some shapes. Tina is a typical party girl – big hair and big dance moves – while Donna’s ambition and serious nature keep her from fully letting loose. That is, until newcomer Ricki arrives from LA and the pair bond over their shared desire to follow their dreams. As they get to know one another, their bliss is cut short as Ricki’s past catches up to him and throws their budding relationship into turmoil.

Mad On Her is an ambitious show to take on, with a soundtrack that is second to none. It boasts some of the most iconic love songs to have ever graced the charts which unfortunately puts a lot of pressure on the cast. The songs, which are certainly filled with bubbling energy and high-octane choreography, are so closely packed together that it becomes rather exhausting to watch. The cast works well together in the dance numbers and the small space is used well throughout. However, the scenes and dialogue between the songs are somewhat lacking. There is minimal connection between the characters and the relationship between Donna and Ricki moves at such high speed that it is very difficult for us to invest in their heartbreak. Perhaps the weakest aspect of the show is the way in which each song is determinedly drawn out to its full extent. This makes for some awkward and unnecessary loitering onstage as the performers anticipate their next scene. Shorter, snappier renditions would do wonders.

The individual performances are varied, with some drawing smiles and laughter from the audience and others falling a bit flat. There are of course some sparks among the cast. Jade Johnson’s Tina is fun and charismatic, injecting the piece with bright energy which is mirrored nicely by Marti, portrayed by Jordan Todd. The highlight of the show comes in the form of Laura Wilson, whose campy characterisation of Cindi feels fun and fresh and utterly appropriate for a show comprised of 80s pop. Her tongue in cheek self-awareness deserves to be extended to the whole show but for now the serious tone of the story is rather jarring.

For the most avid fans of cheesy 80s pop, the soundtrack for Mad On Her may prove enough to win you over. However, its weak script and distinct lack of 80s references make the production feel undeveloped. With a few tweaks, this show holds promise but in its current form, it’s a bit underwhelming.

Reviewed by Alex Foott
Photo: Gabriel Mokake Photography