Jagged Little Pill – Theatre Review

Thanks to my #AusWrites partner in crime, Rebecca Langham, I scored free tickets to this show.

My generation clearly remembers how angst-ridden Alanis Morissette’s single ‘You Oughta Know’ was when it hit the charts in the 90s. It encapsulated the anger of being dumped with an honesty we’d never heard before, and hardly hear now.

So, when the stage show opened with a privileged family in Connecticut, it seemed a strange platform to feature the music of Morisssette.

The Aussie cast of 'Jagged Little Pill' on Alanis Morissette's “epic beast” of a musical
The Australian cast.

I know this musical won awards.

But as the first act played out we had a Disney-fied storyline watering down the importance of the music it featured. It was like the writers picked songs, tried to plot connections between them, but found too many contemporary issues to explore in detail.

We had middle class ‘mom’ with a prescription drug problem. But TV shows like Little Fires Everywhere and Little White Lies have already delved deeper into a similar character. While classic films like Requiem for a Dream, explore drug addiction in a family setting much better.

Several other issues were brushed over. Sexual assault was given much more time, and while the victim’s story was given good treatment, I was annoyed when a male character who watched but didn’t intervene, simply proclaimed, ‘I want to understand why I didn’t do anything’. If he was given that dialogue, why not explore it?

The Redfern Now telemovie titled ‘Promise Me’ took on this issue with grit.

One secondary cast member received a standing ovation.

Maggie McKenna performed ‘You Oughta Know’ and even before she finished, the audience was clapping. We stood when she brought the song home. Below is a sample of her voice.

But it has to be said, the minor storyline leading up to this number was underdeveloped. How great it would have been for the writers to explore this relationship and let it lead to heartbreak unfolding on stage, rather than just minor hints (mere moment of affection and jealousy) during the first act.

There are other times this show shines, but they only pop up from time to time.

This seems to be a Morissette-light project aimed for mainstream America. As it relies on tropes that the US identifies with, without depth, it doesn’t translate well to markets outside that country.

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