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Dye Young/Stay Pretty / Popscicle's Departure 1989 / Teenage kicks - Edinburgh Fringe 2007

Dye Young/Stay Pretty
Gilded Balloon
4 stars
From Wolverhampton to New York may not be that far, but for bored teenager Jill, up the duff in a dead-end provincial city with only her punk rock records to keep her sane in a sea of dodgy discos and glam rock oiks, CBGBs, where Television and Blondie hang out, may as well be a world away. Until, that is, she does a runner, jumps a plane to the big apple and finds herself on the mean streets without a safety net.

At first glance, Jill story’s looks like one more piece of legitimised nostalgia in Adrian Berry’s bright and punchy solo play. As appealingly populist as this vivid portrait of grey and grimy 1970s Britain is, look closer and there’s a whole lot more going on. Because, as Jill goes in search of her idol, Blondie’s still going strong front-woman Debbie Harry, it’s an unlikely yarn that looks increasingly culled from the pages from some teen pop fan mag fantasy.

Performed by Beth Medley in a manner gutsy and excitable enough to draw you into her world, and regaled in third person that at times recalls another small town runaway, Julie Burchill, the final minute of Dye Young/Stay Pretty packs an emotional punch that goes way beyond its soft-centred set-up. Someone get this on the radio immediately.

Popscicle’s Departure 1989
Assembly@St George’s West
4 stars
When Douglas Coupland summed up the disaffected youth of the late 20th century post-ideological age as Generation X, he was probably thinking of someone like Dido. Barely holding down what Coupland called a McJob in an office where she preys on all the GQ-styled guys, at first glance she’s just one more messed-up little druggy on the scene. But behind the tough-talking hipster moves and her affinity with America’s nascent wave of post-punk nihilism is a mind out of whack and a confused, angry young woman with so much energy to burn she doesn’t know where to put it. With her unfaithful loser boyfriend Jeremy’s band supporting The Lemonheads, tonight, of all nights, Dido’s finally going to show him what for.

And so the story of Dido’s so-called life goes in Madi Distefano’s solo firecracker, first seen at New York’s PS122 theatre. Performing it herself, Distefano flits between the increasingly lost Dido and slacker dufus Jeremy with an urgency that illustrates how youth subcultures operate. As the title suggests, Distefano has created a period piece of America’s flipside to its increasingly reactionary status quo. Dido may be looking for nirvana in a pre-Nirvana age, but, like so many who fell before her, she only ends up with oblivion.

Teenage Kicks
Universal Arts@Assembly
3 stars
Legendary DJ John Peel may be dead, but his spirit lives on, both in the generation of bedroom home-tapers wanting to hear obscure music more than once in the pre-MySpace age, and in the generations of lives he changed by switching them on to those very sounds. One suspects John Hodson, author of this gentle piece of old-bloke fantasy nostalgia, was weaned on such experiences.

Set in the cluttered office in the bowels of Broadcasting House Peel shared with his producer John Walters for a quarter of a century, the audience is given an oral history from the two men themselves of Peel’s reinvention from plummy-voweled hippy to downwardly mobile punk rock zealot, football fan and self-deprecating renaissance man.

A follow-up to Hodson’s Meeting Joe Strummer, it’s a charming if a tad all over the place homage, which, given the random nature of Peel’s championing of all things eclectic, is sort of how it should be. It doesn’t work quite as well as its predecessor largely because its emphasis is on the dead famous people rather than those who idolised him.

As Peel, Kieron Forsyth captures Peel’s baroque and ornately mannered speech patterns, if not always the accent he acquired when, like so many posh boys, he slid down the class scale in the wake of punk. Those already steeped in Peel-lore will already recognise the swathe of anecdotage, but for whipper-snappers who believed modern pop began with The Kaiser Chiefs, it’s an essential history lesson.

Moving into more impressionistic terrain, the play’s final scene, in which a be-winged Peel plays Fall records in Heaven, is enough for any lapsed believer to have a minor epiphany at the prospect of such a perfect after-life.

The Herald, August 2007

ends

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