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Review: ‘Cherry’ at Sydney Fringe Festival

“On a cloud of cotton candy,” Sarah Leigh Carroll revisits her Teenage Dreams in Cherry.

In 2008, Katy Perry rocked Sarah Leigh Carroll’s world. Channelling her childhood obsession-cum-transformative-relationship  with the pop star, Carroll reflects on her  long-cherished infatuation with Perry into Cherry, a playful and endearing production currently showing at the Emerging Artist’s Sharehouse as part of Sydney Fringe Festival 2022. Created, directed, and (almost) exclusively starring Carroll, this cabaret-meets-comedy spectacular is sugary nostalgia and sincere sentiment wrapped up in a shiny pink bow.

Walking into the performance space feels more like entering a club than a theatre, with strobe lights colouring the stage and Perry’s sweetest pop hits roaring through the loud-speakers. From its first moments Cherry elicits uproarious laughter, the show beginning before Carroll even approaches the stage, as a guest is teasingly admonished for her late arrival. This high is maintained throughout the entirety of the show. 

Carroll traces her adolescence through her relationship to Katy Perry, and her belonging to the fandom of the so-called Katycats. Obsession is a prerogative of the teenage girl, who devotes herself unashamedly to her connections forged within media – as she should. Through comedic retellings of embarrassing memories and real-time narration of each dramatic moment, Carroll touches on something universal in one teenager’s struggle to seek her own identity and sense of belonging. All the while, the show’s energy is high — Carroll breaks out into song at any given moment, and urges the audience to join in. The soundtrack was (obviously) exclusively composed of Katy Perry’s greatest hits.

Before the performance began, I was chatting with a festival usher outside the venue. He said he had watched Cherry the night before, after a long and tiring day, and the show had been like jet fuel, instantly waking him up. His review was glowing, and, to ensure the best experience, he directed me to sit as close to the middle as I could manage – “You’ll be brought into the action.” I took his advice, and can verify he was right. Carroll waltzed down the aisle, directing jokes towards the audience, handing out props and taking pictures. At one stage, two patrons shyly walked into the theatre just after one of the more moving scenes, where Carroll’s younger self begins to source confidence in Perry’s lyrics. 

“You missed my big moment!” Carroll cried, beckoning them forward to their seats. Carroll infused the atmosphere with delightful joy and sincerity; the room was vibrant at her helm.

The genius of Cherry lies in its marriage of deeply personal, self-deprecating nostalgia with warmth and humour. Carroll enshrines her relationship with Perry in this loving revisitation of her adolescent highs and lows, honouring her passion in the reflections of her young adulthood. If Katy Perry had been in the audience, I’m sure she would’ve loved it.