Preview: Back to the 80s

Gemma Sheehan 28 February 2017

Ahead of their production opening at Robinson this Thursday, I spoke to directors Alice Bennett and Phoebe Pritchett about their upbeat and unusual musical. 

Is Cambridge, or perhaps the state of the world in general, getting you down? The solution might just lie in a trip to Robinson this coming Thursday, for the opening night of Alice and Phoebe’s Back to the 80s. Full of nostalgia, energetic song and dance numbers and an incredibly enthusiastic cast, Back to the 80s is a little bit different from what’s normally on offer in Cambridge. 

Set in an American high school, the musical follows lovestruck Corey Junior as he attempts to win over ‘cool girl’ Tiffany Houston, and is full of classic high school tropes. Phoebe and Alice liken the show to High School Musical, but with already famous songs from the 1980s. “There’s a battle between the cool and nerdy sides, and we follow how they overcome their separation,” explains Phoebe. Alice emphasises that whilst the action is lighthearted fun, the main focus of the show is the songs. “It’s got such an amazing soundtrack,” she enthuses. “It’s all cheese but so fantastic.”

Alice describes the play as “positive and feel-good,” something perhaps we all need a little bit more of in Cambridge. When I arrive at their rehearsal the cast are practicing an upbeat song and dance routine to Kim Wilde’s ‘Kids in America’, but what Alice emphasises as a highlight of this musical is its variety. It’s something which drew choreographer Anna Harrison to this performance in particular. “All the songs are quite different, and it meant we could have lots of different styles of dancing,” she explains. “I loved it because you can get so much into one show: ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ is sexy and slow, toying with the audience; whereas ‘Kids in America’ is much more of a statement as a song, and ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ is like having a joke on stage.

This feel-good vibe is continued with the set and costume design: Phoebe describes it as “really colourful,” but I learn that this only scratches the surface. Balloons, streamers, disco balls and hideous leg warmers all make an appearance. “This is a very lighthearted and happy play,” explains Alice. Yet this doesn't stop it from getting a little weird at times – other unusual prop pieces include Yoda and Darth Vader, and Phoebe explains one of her favourite parts is a “really weird Star Wars sequence” where a character is “haunted by thoughts he’s Skywalker”. It certainly seems one of a kind.

With the end of term approaching, it feels like we’re all looking for a bit of escapism, and as Phoebe admits, the 80s were “an easier time”. Sometimes, all you need is a reminder of a simpler era: Back to the 80s offers up this nostalgia in a brightly singing and dancing package. 

Back to the 80s runs from Thursday 2nd to Saturday 4th March, at Robinson College Auditorium, 7.45pm