During one scene in G&T Theatre’s Melonade, which plays out like a sponsorship advert, hostess Becks Turner attempts to make the titular drink. It becomes quickly apparent that the drink is, in fact, a baking soda and vinegar volcano. As many seconds went by without anyone volunteering to pick up her mop and clean up the froth, I had no choice but to do my duty. Long story short, this was the start of me completely humiliating myself on stage.
Throughout Melonade, select members of the audience take part in games poking fun at the Conservative government’s failure to respect neurodivergent and otherwise creatively-minded pupils. These included popping balloons full of money while wearing masks of Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove; a Pictionary-style game focusing on dyslexia in society (Turner is dyslexic); and, for me, a spelling game gone wrong. Winners get gold stars; losers are forced to wear dunce caps until the show’s grand finale, where the contestants return to harvest melon juice with tools of their choice.
Like accomplishing your goals in life, there’s no wrong way to make Melonade (unless it’s with a rolling pin – note to self, use the juicer next time!). There does, however, seem to be a way to watch Melonade – if you don’t bother to participate, or at least appreciate those who do, it’s barely worth it. If I wasn’t made to spell famously homophonic words like “nit” and “wright” (night and right), then my review would read thusly: “It’s alright… if it was one straight hour of drawing pictures of Keira Knightley then I’d rate it a solid five…”
Turner’s a vivacious emcee, hosting the show with an overly chipper demeanour. However, once during the games, the audience members tend to outshine her. Those dressed as Sunak and Gove during my performance channelled the politicians so well that I thought they were actors planted into the audience! Her jokes also felt cheap at times – when my spelling-bee rival was tasked to spell “backwards”, I already knew that he was supposed to spell something backwards.
Aside from the occasional funny and insightful monologue on how she navigates the world as someone with dyslexia and ADHD, the writing often boils down into “now, bring back creative subjects in schools, I dare ya!” What especially bugs me is how Melonade treats Gove’s 2010-2014 education reform plan as the sole reason why the school system fails neurodivergent people. A large amount of the community, including myself, see the problem as more systemic.
Finally, I wonder about the limitations of accessibility within the show. While there is a brief image description at the start and the performance I saw was relaxed, the show isn’t captioned and any further visual description lies only in the games’ instructions. I understand that it’s a matter of budget and the spontaneity of audience participation, but it still seems a bit lacking.
As an experience, Melonade proves refreshing, provided you’re in the right circumstances. However, it’d be more beneficial if you just drank water and recognised the school system is inherently ableist and it isn’t because one singular Tory messed it up.
VAULT Festival 2023 runs Tuesday 24th January to Sunday 19th March, full listings and ticket information can be found here.
This review was written by a participant of the VAULT Festival New Critics Programme in partnership with Theatre Weekly. For more information about the VAULT Festival New Critics Programme, and all of our 2023 participants, please visit: https://vaultfestival.com/new-critics-programme/