Sleepover Gurlz – Vidya Rajan and Emma Smith

By Elyce Phillips 

In a bedroom somewhere in North Fitzroy, Vidya Rajan (Asian Ghost-ery Store) and Emma Smith (Woman Laughing with a Bowl of Salad) are having a sleepover. It’s full of all the cool stuff you remember – snacks and watching movies and gossiping – but lurking in the dark is something more sinister. Sleepover Gurlz is a hilarious triumph, blending the soft warmth of nostalgia with a deft hard punch of interrogative wit. It whips between the familiar and the strange, gross and intelligent – a tightly constructed package crammed with everything you could want in a Fringe show.

The staging of Sleepover Gurlz is incredibly fun. You show up to the secret location filled with the same kind of nerves you felt when you were going off to a sleepover at a school friend’s place for the first time, full of excitement at what’s to come but nervous to be somewhere strange and new. Those nerves are quickly set aside when you are welcomed in and guided to the craft table. Before the show begins, the audience sits in a small huddle, making paper crowns, putting on candy bracelets. There’s a few books available to flip through to pass the time, all pop psych tomes on dealing with depression and navigating single life. We all have a quick chat and get to know each other a little, and it makes the sleepover feel all the more real when we’re guided into the bedroom where the show takes place.

The conceit of the show is simple. The audience are all friends who have come over to Rajan and Smith’s sleepover. Over the course of the hour, we experience a feverish, heightened version of the parties we remember – as kids, then teens. From this familiar starting point, however, Sleepover Gurlz twists and unravels to reveal some hard truths about female socialisation and the ongoing effect it has on our lives. Rajan and Smith work together terrifically. Smith’s bold physical movements bring a manic energy to the childhood portions of the show. Rajan is intelligent and measured, getting laughs with a quick look or an unexpected turn of phrase. Both bring their whole selves to the performance for the full duration in a way that is incredibly impressive. Xanthea O’Connor’s sound design is utterly brilliant and should also be commended. Her work makes the experience all the more immersive.

Sleepover Gurlz does a fabulous job of uncovering the sense of ritual that’s deeply embedded in childhood sleepovers. Things which, at the time, felt so fun and grown-up – like playing with make-up and revealing your crushes – are stripped down to their base elements and shown for what they are – preparation for the patriarchy. Scenes demonstrating the elation and excitement of discovering a new adult world are intercut with the harsh realities of what you find when you get there. Rajan and Smith have created a show that will have you gasping with laughter in the moment, but then leave you thinking about it for days afterwards.

Sleepover Gurlz has sold out the remainder of its run at Melbourne Fringe look out for any extra or future performances