Theatre review: Grief Lightning

Revisiting Grease the movie, with a mock socio-cultural analysis in PowerPoint.

Grief Lightning will appeal to those who enjoy the side of fan culture that is good-humoured, passionate, and lovingly analytical – that engages with the material beyond its official confines, imagining and reinterpreting with little reverence for authorial intention. Part lecture, part comedy show, and part dramatic performance, Mary Angley’s one-person production takes its audience on a journey through the Grease fan theory that suggests the musical’s bizarre narrative is in fact a coma fantasy. Exactly which character dies, and when, are questions our lecturer aims to elucidate by the end of the presentation. 

The actual evidence she produces in support of this theory is not overwhelmingly compelling, but it is presented with utter confidence and in such an engaging way that the audience is happy to be won over regardless. Like any good scholar, she sets out her premises, cites all her sources – from Wikipedia entries to Reddit comments – and offers her own probing analysis of the 1978 film. A highlight is her hilarious breakdown of the song ‘Sandy’ (sung by Danny following that famously uncomfortable drive-in scene). Tying it all together is a deceptively simple PowerPoint presentation that is a vital part of the show’s charm. Angley deploys slide changes and animations with expert comic timing.

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Interspersed throughout these lecture segments are a series of chaotic monologues that explore the darker sides of the protagonists’ psyches. An unnerving mash-up of ominous biblical references and Grease lyrics, esoteric incantation and teenage angst, these speeches are equal parts eerie, poetic, and funny. Performed convincingly by Angley, who whips between bewigged orator and slightly unhinged lecturer with playful ease, the monologues ensure that Grief Lightning is memorable as more than an amusing comedy show. Their impact is further heightened with the aid of a dynamic accompanying soundscape from composer Dan Thorpe. 

Grief Lightning does not ignore the more troubling parts of Grease and is unafraid to tackle everything from plot holes to questionable relationships and gender dynamics. However, its analysis is largely done from a place of fondness for an undoubtedly beloved film, rather than from a desire to tear down and pick apart. Of course, this is not to say that the show isn’t willing to cheerfully (and intelligently) poke fun at it.

Mary Angley would be an engaging performer on any topic, but for those with a particular interest in pop culture, her latest production is well worth seeing. 

Grief Lightning: A Satire in 78 Slides
Rumpus Theatre, Adelaide
Paper Mouth Theatre and Wickedly Good Productions

Writer, Performer and Projection Designer: Mary Angley
Creative Producer: Caitlin Ellen Moore
Sound Designer: Dan Thorpe
Lighting Designer: Mark Oakley
Tech: Sim Myers

Tickets: $30
Grief Lightning will be performed until 30 April 2022

Megan Koch is a writer and bookseller based in Adelaide. She studied English and Applied Linguistics at Flinders University.