Theatre review: Garage Girls, La Mama Courthouse

A show for lovers of feel-good movies, Australian stories and women beating the odds.

Garage Girls is a new Australian work that tells the life story of Alice Anderson, the founder of Australia’s first all-girl garage started right here in Melbourne. It’s a premise straight out of a British feel-good film à la Calendar Girls, but with an Aussie, lesbian-coded twist.

The creative team reflects Anderson’s women-focused rationale, with Candace Miles, Madelaine Nunn, Anna Rodway, Carolyn Bock and Helen Hopkins making up both the writing team and cast. 

As performers, they’re at their best in the ensemble moments, which are used to both transition between and introduce scenes by way of direct-to-audience narration. Director Janice Muller has a keen sense of how to deliver these moments in an engaging way through the group’s movement and general staging. 

However, the kitsch and hammy delivery that works well in transitions is grating when scenes play out and causes a lack of connection between characters. Rodway stands out in her ability to switch between cabaret-style storytelling and performing as clear, genuine characters (Marie, Jessie and Claire). 

Nunn as Alice Anderson plays the always chipper, stiff upper lip stereotype to a tee. It’s endearing at first, but the choice, both in terms of the writing and performance, to only show this side of Alice makes Nunn’s performance one note. This seems like a conscious choice from the creative team in order to drive home how Alice deals with mental health and internalised homophobia – which is to say she doesn’t. But, as a result, the unique element of Garage Girls – the lesbian-coded characters and relationships – can’t be explored as Alice stubbornly ignores the topic. This characterisation of Alice also sees the production lack emotional oomph in its third act. 

There are other teething issues around pacing, but otherwise this is an extremely schmick show. The dialogue is expertly grounded in the story’s context, each character is fully formed and loveable despite the often pantomimic delivery and there’s plenty of wit and humour sewn in.

The costumes by Sophie Woodward are impeccable and immediately throw the audience into the work’s historical context of the 1920s. The sound design by Rachel Stone works well alongside this, though it is tiring to see yet another production use sound design like a movie score – a trend that suggests thespians don’t trust their audience to pick up on the emotional state of the characters without audio cues. 

Read: Petrol-powered feminist icon celebrated on stage

An already sold-out run at La Mama shows that Australian stories about women are in high demand and Garage Girls, with its witty dialogue and entertaining ensemble work, won’t disappoint. 

Garage Girls
Directed by: Janice Muller
Set/Costume Design: Sophie Woodward
Set Construction: Jacob Battista
Lighting Design: Gina Gascoigne
Sound Design: Rachel Stone

Written and performed by: Candace Miles, Madelaine Nunn and Anna Rodway in collaboration with Carolyn Bock and Helen Hopkins 

Garage Girls will be performed until 30 July 2023.

Jenna Schroder is an emerging arts critic, with a background in dance and voice, and an organiser at the Media, Entertainment, Arts Alliance. Outside of her union activism, Jenna can be found performing at The Improv Conspiracy, around the Melbourne comedy scene and producing independent work across multiple platforms. Twitter: @jennaschroder00