As the audience take their seats, the music pumping through the Space Theatre begins Hits’ work of slinging us back to the summer of 1992. Whether we used music as an escape or to help build an identity, the artists spinning on our turntables or tape decks through our teenage years spoke directly to us, putting lyrics to all those new and confusing feelings broiling within us.

With references to bands ranging from Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who began their domination of the music world in this era, to The Cure, Tori Amos, Wham!, Smashing Pumpkins, Cyndi Lauper, and one-hit wonders like Yazz, Hits is a coming-of-age story tapping into the power music wields over us in our most formative years.

The play opens with 15-year-old Rhiannon (Ren Williams), 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” and a hairbrush microphone. Rhiannon is obsessed with music, but it’s the soundtrack to her parents’ youth that she has on high rotation in her Walkman; classic soft rock transporting her back to a happier time when her family was intact. Her dad (Eddie Morrison), a gigging musician, left on tour and didn’t return, leaving Rhiannon and her mum Linda (Emma Beech) to eke out a living in suburban Adelaide.

’90s gold: Emma Beech as Linda and Ren Williams as Rhiannon. Photo: Morgan Sette

Branded as “Freakazoid” by peers taking their cues about life from Dolly magazine, Rhiannon escapes by losing herself in the memories she carries in her cassette collection. Riding on a bus, lost in Air Supply’s “All Out of Love”, life as she knows it takes a dramatic turn when she chases a man she thinks is her father into a music store.

With riot grrrl cool and that brand of cultural superiority particular to music aficionados, muso and record store manager Suzie (Annabel Matheson) is the female character High Fidelity needed. Suzie gives Rhiannon an after-school job and up-ends the teenager’s world with a life makeover seemingly as swift and comprehensive as donning a Hole T-shirt.

Deeper than a surface transformation and as profound as love, it’s that moment we all remember if we’re lucky enough to have someone like this in our lives – the recognition of our people. When Suzie’s band Razor Lizard is included on the bill of The Big Day Out, the stage is set for Rhiannon’s coming of age and we are along for the ride.

Muso Suzie (Annabel Matheson, left) with teenager Rhiannon. Photo: Morgan Sette

With a cast of four playing all the speaking roles, the acting is stellar. Beech’s eyebrow-obsessed Linda is a standout, and Morrison’s gleeful embodiment of the sadly ubiquitous ’90s male sleaze in both DJ Barry and Suzie’s manager is pitch-perfect. The use of Flinders University drama students in band T-shirts is particularly clever – the group form a chorus that morphs from mosh-pit revellers to bus passengers, with their presence or absence as effective as a change of set.

The writing of Hits is ambitious and accomplished, with writer-director Rebecca Meston enlivening the story with delightful moments of comedy. The ’90s are rich pickings for nostalgic gold, and Meston has chosen well. The script and set are peppered with random ’90s symbols, from Frente! to hairspray, and the callbacks to Camilla-gate and Sizzler hit perfectly.

DJ Barry’s smooth, innuendo-laced radio commentary is so nostalgically on the nose it proves delightfully nauseating.  Meston’s control of time using cassette-tape vernacular is particularly effective, allowing the action to be fast-forwarded, rewound or paused as needed.

Kudos to Jason Sweeney’s sound production, particularly the effect for the Big Day Out sequence, which perfectly evokes the echo and reverb-laden sound of the festival.

Hits is a story packed with laughter and nostalgia that will resonate with anyone who remembers the power music wielded in that transformational zone between adolescence and adulthood. While the soundtrack will be deeply appreciated by Gen X, this production will have feet tapping and heads nodding regardless of age.

Hits – presented by Laughter Through the Tears Productions, in association with the Adelaide Festival Centre and support from Brink Productions –  is playing at the Space Theatre until July 6.

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