Jagged Little Pill

Jagged Little Brilliance

January 18, 2022

Palpable, vibrant anticipation filled Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre for the magnificent opening performance of ‘Jagged Little Pill: A New Musical from Alanis Morissette’. It may be that more than half of the audience grew up alongside the songs of Alanis Morissette. It may be that the families and loved ones of the performers were watching. Whatever it was, everyone shared that same vibration as the lights dimmed and an unseen narrator acknowledged the original owners of the land.

Amazing script writing, incredible performances, beautifully expressive choreography, and perfectly apt staging were witnessed by an eclectic audience who openly revelled in the entire experience. 

Nine years in the making, and 27 years since Morissette released her iconic album, this social commentary perfectly expresses the issues faced in this post social media environment and the flow-on effects of generational trauma.

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Disconnect in family relationships, the social media-driven need for ‘perfection’, bullying and de-humanisation, diversity of sexual identity, racial divide, drug and opioid addiction, consent and rape/abuse culture, are all laid bare for the audience to see.

Grace Miell and cast. Photo by Daniel Boud.

Writers, cast and crew put on a performance that made it impossible to hide. Wholly immersive moments of complete authenticity and realistic depth of character portrayal brought forth unfettered emotion. From sighs of recognition and compassion, to wracking sobs juxtaposed by celebratory cheers, there was never time for the audience members to catch their breath as each line, each note, of each song left nothing in reserve. Every aspect of emotion was metered and presented to the audience in such a way that one would expect from seasoned performers such as Natalie Bassingthwaite (Mary Jane Healy) and Tim Draxl (Steve Healy), but every cast member showed an almost otherworldly depth of skill and stage presence that belies their years.  

Powerful vocal performances were heralded by three standing ovations – two during the show and one at the show’s conclusion. Maggie McKenna’s Jo’s mighty rendition of ‘You Oughtta Know’ tore the roof off, while Natalie Bassingthwaite pulled the audience out of their seats during ‘Uninvited’.  

Maggie McKenna and cast. Picture credit Daniel Boud.

Bassingthwaite’s astounding vocal technique and the energy of her presence fills the stage when she is alone, yet she draws that energy back into herself when she is joined by the other cast members. She takes care to meet, not overwhelm, her fellow performers so, together, they create a whirlwind of energy that lifts the audience and brings them on her journey through pain to redemption.

The musical arrangement and performances of all cast are nothing short of amazing as they tell a multi-tiered story through the songs of Morissette’s original album. The on-stage orchestra had a fluidity of presence as their curtain rose and fell, revealing, then hiding them from the stage. This served to create an effect akin to a telephoto lens as attention was drawn from a ‘wide shot’ of the entire production to a focussed ‘close up’ where only front-of-stage performers and music were present.

The cinematic quality of the stage show is immersive, modern, and highly complex. Minimalistic, it is yet part of the emotional landscape of each piece. The staging has a character of its own in each scene, complementing and expressing the fluctuation of mood and emotion of the performers. 

Full cast. Picture credit Daniel Boud.

The company dancers perfectly showcase the vulnerable, emotive, and sometimes heartbreaking, choreography. They added a level of understanding and authenticity to the already vibrant show – every movement had a purpose and created a stronger connection with the audience. An often ‘jagged’ fusion of hip hop, jazz, contemporary and balletic influences, the choreography depicted the characters’ anger, angst, conscience, frustration, sadness, innocence, joy, and helped to fully depict the pain of the past that haunts the present, and ‘unseen’ battles fought by people in their everyday lives. 

Particularly moving was the simple, yet profound performance of MJ’s out-of-body experience during ‘Uninvited’. Simple white lights, soft from above and harsh from left and right of stage, offered a stark vision of the reality of her character’s trauma. Bella, standing rear of stage, was trapped in blue light, while MJ and the dancer fought for space upon a couch in one moment, then became a single entity in the next, before moving back to discordant separation as the orchestra rose and fell to their movements. The skilful combination of music, choreography, lighting, and performance to convey such a horrible experience, rendered the audience speechless. 

Liam Head, Emily Nkomo, Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Tim Draxl. Picture credit Daniel Boud.

It would have been simple to only pay lip service to all of the known stereotypical tropes and characterisations, but the writers, directors, cast and production team created more than enough space for the characters to express the validity and fractured poise of every person in today’s world. The hangover of the 1950s style nuclear family, pain of the black civil rights movement, inequality of belief and the ‘female vs male’ voice in the legal system, hollowness of the church, struggle for acceptance of gender and sexual diversity, the immeasurable damage caused by sexual assault, and the fight to speak our truth, are all clearly depicted, all the while showing glimpses of hope. For honest communication, kindness, compassion and understanding, connection and coming together to fight the injustices of our world is our only hope for our future.

The masterful way in which Jagged Little Pill acknowledges and explores the reality of the horrors and joys of life is astounding. Emily Nkomo (Frankie Healy), Liam Head (Nick Healy), Maggie McKenna (Jo), Grace Miell (Bella) and Aydan (Phoenix) are the young stars of this modern masterpiece that, no doubt, will still be relevant in another 30 years. 

SEASON DETAILS:

MELBOURNE

Venue: Comedy Theatre

Season: From January 13th 2022

Performance Times: Tuesday 7pm, Wednesday-Saturday 7.30pm, Matinees Saturday 2pm & Sunday 1pm, Sunday 6pm

Price: From $85.00 + booking fee 

Bookings: jaggedmusical.com ticketmaster.com.au 

PERTH

Venue: Crown Theatre, Perth

Season: From May 14th 2022

Performance Times: Tuesday 7pm, Wednesday-Saturday 7.30pm, Matinees Saturday 2pm & Sunday 1pm, Sunday 6pm

Price: From $69.00 + booking fee

Bookings: jaggedmusical.com ticketmaster.com.au

SYDNEY

Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney

Season: From 9th July 2022

Performance Times: Tuesday 7pm, Wednesday-Saturday 7.30pm, Matinees Saturday 2pm & Sunday 1pm, Sunday 6pm

Price: From $65.00 + booking fee. * A fee of $8.95 will apply per transaction.

Bookings: jaggedmusical.com theatreroyalsydney.com



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