London Fringe 2018: The Awesome 80s Prom — Radical? Tubular? Take Your Pick. This Prom’s a Blast

By Jay Menard,

There are moments and shows where you say, “They get it. That’s Fringe.” Describing what’s “fringey” is hard to do — you just know it when you see it. The Awesome 80s prom fully embraces the Fringe ethos and delivers a show that makes the most of its story, cast, and event its venue.

The Awesome 80s Prom, put on by London’s Original Kids Theatre Company, is a fully immersive experience — even before you enter the venue. The cast mingles with attendees in the line, fully in character. One big-haired, puffy dressed prom queen candidate angles for votes with the patrons. A convertible rolls by — guys and girls hooting at the crowd; upon its return, one football player spills out and immediately vomits on the ground.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Wannaget High prom of 1989.

Once you enter the venue, St. Peter’s Cathedral Basillica’s auditorium, you’re greeted with a full-scale blast from the past. Huey Lewis & the News’ Back in Time emanates from the DJ stage, posters and photos adorn the walls, and a veritable menagerie of 80s stereotypes walk by and mingle around.

The main setting of an old gymnasium is perfect. But that’s just the start. This is not your average production. Though the gym is the focal point, if you only stay there, you’re going to miss so much of the show. Cast members wander around and engage patrons in conversations, you’re encouraged to join in on the hijinks (a steady stream of men old enough to know better followed a couple of jocks into the washroom to give an old school ‘swirlie’ to the school nerd.)

You can explore the students’ lockers, catch up on the clubs and activities on the posters, and — ultimately — vote for the Prom King and Queen.

But that’s not all. This is a production that features:

  • Copious dance numbers
  • A break-up in the middle of the dance floor
  • A few other breakups
  • A few corresponding makeups
  • Crimped hair
  • Nerds
  • Jocks
  • A girl with dental headgear that’s co-ordinated with her dress
  • “Heathers”
  • A missing necklace
  • Choreographed dodgeball (yes, choreographed dodgeball)
  • A case of mistaken bear-dentity
  • A Groucho Marx disguise
  • Dance circles
  • Dance battles
  • Detention slips handed out for everything from “bad hair” to being “too underdressed”
  • An awesome recorder version of Salt n Pepa’s Push it
  • Purple Rain!!!
  • Bubbles
  • A slow-time battle
  • And a killer soundtrack (especially for those of us of a certain vintage)f

There are also the homages to classic 80s fare like Say Anything, Thriller, the Breakfast Club, Scooby Doo, and Ferris Bueller.

The show is what you make it. You can interact as much or as little as possible. There’s so much to see and do that you can feel you’re missing out. And even if the ending can be predicted, that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. The process of getting there is just so much fun.

The risk with shows like this is that they can be overly cheesy — or even hokey. These youth performers are to be admired for how much they’ve committed to their roles. They’re fully invested and fully engage with the crowd. There are so many opportunities to interact with the cast and they make each and every one feel natural.

It’s long, I’ll admit it. There’s a bit of a lag three-quarters of the way through and the show could probably be tightened a bit. And, just like any real 80s prom, that gym gets a little stuffy and sweaty. But those are minor issues considering how enjoyable the total experience is.

Whether you’re a child of the 80s or on either side of that demographic, this is a show you shouldn’t miss. It takes full advantage of its setting and is a fantastic representation of what Fringe is truly about.

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