Review: Cherry, Midsummer Festival 2023

You are twelve years old in your childhood bedroom. Nobody understands you. You pull out your pink iPod Nano and press ‘play’. Katy Perry asks, “do you ever feel like a plastic bag?”


You are twelve years old in your childhood bedroom. Nobody understands you. You pull out your pink iPod Nano and press ‘play’. Katy Perry asks, “do you ever feel like a plastic bag?”

Such is the era that Sarah Leigh Carroll transports us to in her one-hour show Cherry, a romp through adolescence, coming out, and intense Katy Perry fandom. Carroll performed Cherry at the Butterfly Club as part of the Midsumma Presents… program at Midsumma Festival 2023. A one-and-a-half-person show, Carroll was supported throughout by a palette of sound effects and occasional props, as well as music director Marissa Saroca stepping in and out of scenes in their 2012-Katy-era blue wig.

The show opens with an audio recording of Rage, where Katy Perry’s 2008 hit ‘I Kissed a Girl’ is playing. From that moment, audiences are transported into Carroll’s most formative years to laugh, sing, and gush alongside the performer. Carroll builds scenes through first-person present narration, slipping easily between skits of teenage embarrassment and obsession. While doing so, Carroll taps into a sense of shared nostalgia through specificity–the dialup modem in the computer room, the Supré overalls, the experience of sitting under the COLA (covered outdoor learning area, for the uninitiated). There is a well-constructed irony to many of the anecdotes, a framing that allows her to break out of character with humorous asides–“I later find out this is ADHD”.

Alongside the “real life” of home and school, Carroll thrusts us into the highs and lows of fandom. This, too, feels like a shared experience. Carroll’s wry declaration about a new website named “Twitter” is met with laughs and followed by a wordscape of falling into the Katy Perry fandom, nicknamed “KatyCats”, all vying for the attention of their star and idol.

As a Swiftie, I was struck by recollection during a skit about Katy Perry finally bringing the California Dreams tour to Australia–it reminded me of attending the 1989 tour at the age of 14, the frenzy of asking for permission and then purchasing tickets and then the surreal experience of seeing your idol as a real person, albeit from very far away. Music fandom is a mixture of celebrity obsession and the desire for connection with other fans, and Carroll delves into the height of this phenomenon without ever minimising or mocking the experience. Whilst the driving heart of Cherry is that teenage fandom experience, it doesn’t stop there but rather skips ahead to other pivotal moments taking us to the present. Here is where Cherry would have benefited from a more anchored narrative, as it occasionally slips into being a sequence of skits without cohesion.

Any lapses of awkwardness or missed cues are easily made to feel like part of an adolescent character struggling with self-confidence. Even so, these moments are usually subsumed by a burst of energy to maintain an overall commanding stage presence. She bursts into song without a falter, belting ‘Firework’ or ‘Lost’ in a moment of vulnerability and then asking the audience to join in for the chorus of ‘Teenage Dream’. The result is a hybrid sketch comedy-cabaret show with an emphasis on heart. The hybridity is enhanced by pre-recorded sound elements–mostly notably the original recording of a meeting with Katy Perry, recreated for audience pleasure with a lifesize cutout of the artist, and the iconic “They ask you how you are and you have to say you’re fine, but you’re not fine”. Carroll engages well with the cozy, intimate space of The Butterfly Club–she treats the room as an extension of her stage, moving up and down the aisles and interacting directly with audience members.

Cherry is a coming-of-age journey delivered with humour and a whole lot of heart. Carroll ties the show together through a heartfelt reflection delivered to cardboard Katy, with the audience as witnesses and voyeurs. After all these years together, it may be time for Carroll to let go of the pop superstar and become her own person–also, Carroll asks, why are VIP tickets for Katy’s Las Vegas residency so expensive?

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