Adore Me – ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Adore Me – produced by Ana Ferreira Manhoso and the Performing Arts Alumni Society – features many emotional scenes that are very rare to witness on stage, and the way they successfully push through the fear of presenting such visceral scenes to an audience is what makes it a five star show.

The first half of Adore Me was so natural with the back and forth dialogue, the separate conversations happening at once that you could tune in on, the banter. It was so well-rehearsed that it looks almost as though it could’ve been improvised by the actors, but I’m sure that it couldn’t have been because the pace stayed consistent and each line was purposeful. The script by the masterful Dylan Lee was great. Playful and witty. Everyday conversation without the bore, familiar but not mundane. And then when the second half switched tones entirely, the script was immediately the opposite of itself. Scary, mysterious, you become the fly on the wall to conversations that only happen in private. It feels wrong in a way to be watching the characters hurting one another.

The characters are also written very, very well. Each has faults, insecurities, entirely different values and fears. Each character in the cast of five are strong enough for me to write an entire page on and we only had an hour to witness them all. Each is memorable, and seemed to represent a different social issue in Australian youth.

Nick was the core anti-hero. Undergoing an arc from likeable and driving, to problematic with an accountability issue. One of the great things with this play is that we still don’t know by the ‘end’ what truly happened, so we can’t understand the scope of how bad a person Nick truly is. We want to like him because he’s fun and quirky, but as time goes on he gets more and more detestable. The character of Nick being so important is a joint success from the writer/director, his unbuttoned costume and bare feet from the costumer, and especially the efforts of actor Liam Crevola. His rhythm, tone and expressions were immaculately suited to the role and must have taken a lot of time to perfect this well.

Gemma was the deuteragonist and character I took to as the lens through which to see the play. She receives the brunt of Nick’s impact and is one of the most consistently loveable characters. She also made us uncomfortable while giving us a peek into the intimacy of eating disorders, a kind of necessary discomfort. An interesting part of this play was that I could see someone I knew in each of the characters. There is someone for every young person to connect with, and for me it was Gemma. Courtney Lee played her with such strength, and I applaud the vulnerability she presented as she brought herself into the role for us to see.

Thomas was an interesting choice for one half of the catalyst to the conflict. Having the most masculine of the quintuple as the victim was a subversive choice and I appreciated this new take on a common dramatic tale. Tim Claxton was a great vessel for the character who was physically strongest with the juxtaposition of being in arguably the most fragile state mentally. It was a tight balance that required a strong actor to pull off, and Tim Claxton was that actor.

Ollie was a less central character while also leading my favourite scene in the whole event. Watching two men hug in a bond of friendship with the intention of one just supporting the other was so powerful. Men in the audience were trying to wipe away their tears as quickly as possible, I don’t think they were used to the image of this antithesis to toxic masculinity, and beacon of healthy masculinity. I think that actor Nicholas Allen really struck a chord as the protagonist for the cisgender heterosexual man, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his portrayal changed mindsets, relationships, or even lives for the better.

Sophia was a minor character but still given a powerful role – highlighting the wealth and class of each character and how it divides the group into sections. She also served as the reason for most of the transitions, which were exceptionally smooth. Miarka Rogers was a grounding point, a kind of reason in the chaos, and a good foil for the rest of the characters.

Every single actor was so very vulnerable. Their chemistry, their tension, their physicality all unmatched from what I’ve seen out of the original dramas this season. Adore Me is a perfect example of why we still need theatre in the age of streaming. You cannot capture the heaviness in the silences without being right there in the folding chairs, with no where to look but on stage. This performance makes you feel as though your moral compass might not be fully calibrated and forces either a reflection upon your values or to pretend it had no impact. Every person will leave with a different idea on which characters were right and which were wrong, who was good and who was bad. This entire production lives in a grey area, and I encourage anyone who saw this to have the courage to truly analyze what was presented to you.

As for the tech, the warm lighting was friendly when the place was happy and a special kind of hellish when it all turned sour. The set, by Troy Coelho and Anna Stewart, added details that were required to ground us in where and when we were, but would have felt shoehorned to mention in the script. Troy and Anna were also in charge of the clever props, which made sense in the context of the characters home and created an atmosphere befitting of a young sharehouse. The costumes by Eilish Campbell perfectly reflected each character’s personality and were very realistic based on each person’s implied wealth, class, and self-esteem. I’d also like to give a special shoutout to Declan Young who was in charge of photography and graphics. The poster of the broken statue with the glass eye piqued intrigue that I could not forget, and was perhaps single-handedly the reason I thankfully decided to book this ticket.

As a whole, Adore Me is a high quality drama with that begins with a playful image of happy friends and ends in a devastating way that had me shook to my core, in only the Fringe lifespan of an hour. It is a real accomplishment.

Ever yours,

The Velvet Card Critic

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