The visage of dreamy lighting and pastel coloured scenery doesn’t prepare you for SUDS’ daring, dangerous and devilish Hazelwood Jr. High. Think Heathers, but with more blood and less satire.
Victoria Boult directs Rob Urbinati’s play, a compelling and terrifying true story of the murder of Shanda Sharer by four of her classmates. Boult delivers what ostensibly appears to be an homage to the 1980s (and John Hughes) through catchy 80s bops — an opening dance number to Kim Wilde’s banger ‘Kids in America’ – and Tatjana Najmann-Reid’s killer denim-riddled costuming. Yet this sentiment is entirely subverted by the play’s second act where murder becomes the centre of the play’s primary narrative.
The show opens on a love triangle which includes Amanda, new-girl Shanda and Melinda. Amanda and Melinda are “going steady” but when Amanda begins to have feelings for Shanda, the play becomes an entirely different beast. School-girl crushes quickly turn to revenge plots and the second act feels like a David Lynch-directed Breakfast Club. The stark contrast between the witty and nostalgic opening to the harrowing and dark closing scenes keep the audience latching onto every word.
Although reflecting on an era where cult films presenting heightened realism were a staple — Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to name a few – Hazelwood Jr. High maintains naturalism and grounds itself in its strong and distinctive characters. As Shanda and Amanda, Niamh Gallagher and Amber Cunneen play wonderfully off each other and act as the protagonists of the play’s first half. Following a mildly satanic ceremony, Shanda and Amanda become catalytic players and four of their classmates, Hope, Toni, Melinda and Laurie, spearhead the second half as a quartet of terror.
Impressively, the production never trivialises its characters — every one feels realised, as do their relationships with their counterparts. Notably, the interaction between Toni and Hope (Amelia McNamara and Akala Newman respectively), remains incredibly compelling throughout the production as their characters present the toxicity of peer pressure and show the most remorse in the play’s final act. Bianca Farmakis’ Melinda is vibrant and sincere while Jasmine Cavanough’s Laurie is rife with duality and ambiguity; both performances lend an ambience of apprehension as the audience wonders what either character will do next.
This kind of ambience is intentionally jarring against the dreamy high-school-prom lighting, only furthered by the pastel pink stage, which is divided into a school locker-area, a car and a bedroom. Sound, too, is integral to the piece and whether it be blood-curdling bangs heard from behind a villainous silhouette, a diary entry read aloud in voiceover or blaring Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’, it is seamless and repeatedly set the tone.
Boult delivers an eerie and captivating performance with Hazelwood Jr. High. Juggling social commentary, a designated time period and a true story is no easy task but Boult does so beautifully, creating a fast paced and enthralling play that leaves you latching onto every minute from start to denouement.