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The Breakfast Club


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Wow – it has to be unusual that an amateur theatre adaptation of a classic movie is as good as (if not better than) the original.

Having refreshed my memory by recently watching John Hughes’ 1985 coming-of-age comedy-drama starring Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy, I felt Matt Bryne’s adaptation of The Breakfast Club had a lot to live up to. The Breakfast Club is still powerful 30 years on, remaining one of the most defining films of its genre.

For those who don’t remember, it is about five students coming together for a Saturday detention at Chicago’s Shermer High School on March 24, 1984; an experience that changes the way they see themselves and each other.

“They represent five different groups in the school body – the nerds, the princesses, the jocks, the goths and the stoners,” Byrne says.

“At 7am they meet with nothing in common, but by 4pm they have opened their hearts and fought their way to common ground and realise they need each other.”

In addition to producing, adapting, directing and designing the production, Byrne plays Shermer principal Richard Vernon more convincingly than the film version’s Paul Gleason.

Byrne has also taken a risk in casting James King in the lead role as John “The Criminal” Bender (originally played by Nelson). The Breakfast Club is a debut for King, who has neither studied drama nor performed before. At first I wasn’t convinced, but by 10 minutes in King had proved himself to have more grunt and passion in the character than Nelson.

“I have an abundance of life experiences, maybe even a slightly colourful past, but right now I feel like this role was made for me and I’m having the time of my life doing it,” he says.

The role of Claire “The Princess” Standish (originally played by Ringwald) was filled by another relative newcomer, Kacy Ratta, who hasn’t performed since high school but does a good job.

Brian “The Brain” Johnson was originally played by Hall, but again Byrne’s production does it better. Jamie Hornsby embodies so much more of the nerd character  – he is very special.

Kristen Tommasini as Allison Reynolds “The Basket Case” has the most difficult challenge with a mostly non-speaking role. In film, Hughes was able to capture the subtleties and small gestures that identify her as a “weirdo”; this is not so easily achieved on stage, and as a result the role is unfortunately diminished.

The jock, originally played by Estevez, is performed by Loccy Hywood in yet another theatrical debut. He, too, is memorable, and his dance solo to Karla DeVito’s “We Are Not Alone” is great.

The soundtrack contains the original songs by singers including David Bowie (“Changes”), Simple Minds (“Don’t You Forget About Me”) and Tom Petty (“Learning to Fly”). In fact, Byrne hasn’t left out much of the original film at all. Even the script appears almost word for word as Hughes wrote it.

Perhaps one of the reasons Byrne’s production works so well was that Hughes’ original film budget was just $1 million with a single location shoot. This is replicated well in the theatre setting with simple schoolroom props and the use of video to describe some of the scenes.

Looking back at the 1985 film, they were innocent days, by today’s standards, but the experience of teenagers endures and the film maintains its relevance. Byrne’s adaptation, set in a modern context by the actors’ innate Australianness and the cultural influences of the past three decades, somehow feels more authentic.

The Breakfast Club is playing at the Holden Street Theatres, Hindmarsh, until November 8.

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