You will either love it, or wish to escape/hide in the back row of seats where you think they can’t find you.
Jimmy Harper (Jamie Dodd) and Mary Lane (Rachel Clements), are two straight laced lovebirds who fall in with bad types like the charismatic dealer Jack, who promises Jimmy swing dance lessons if he will try a little bit of the mysterious reefer. I want what this guy is smoking. Jimmy’s first puff makes the devil himself rise bringing an all singing-all-dancing orgy. Mary Lane tries to track down her love, but he turns her away for “Mary Jane”. Mary Lane is then preyed upon by Jacks cronies until she too takes a hit and falls into debauchery, and a fight breaks out.
It’s a mental spectacle of a show, from the fun choreography and big dance numbers to the semi nudity, with appearances from both Satan and Jesus and lots of writhing around simulating sex. The performances were universally strong, the cast clearly relishing the opportunity to be such ridiculously caricatured characters. Carlos Sandin, as the crazed pothead Ralph Wiley deserves a special mention for the sheer physicality of his performance. The show was wittily written and the score is a glorious mishmash, a bit of jazz and a bit of rock and some show tunes thrown in for good measure but it was hard to hear the cast singing above the music which was a real shame. There is some highly involved audience participation where cast are in and out of the audience’s laps. Watch out if you are in the front row in the orgy number, but don’t think you are safe at the back either.
However as the characters in the source material are very weak it leads to some very one sided characters onstage, and some very awful stuff happening to them. The comic relief is Mae Coleman (Yasemin Gezer), an addicted, abused woman in a very unhealthy relationship with her drug supplier. I had a sense of humour failure that we were supposed to find the physical assault of a character funny in a - ‘Shut up’ *slap* laughter - kind of way. It’s not quite satirical enough to not be really dark, nor ridiculous enough to be passable as a joke. It needs to be made clearer that the violence is not a punch line and more a satire of violence.
Reefer Madness is a show that will split audiences. You will either love it, or wish to escape/hide in the back row of seats where you think they can’t find you. I would recommend it to people up for slap-dash humour and highly interactive audience members.