Is there any such thing as Normal?


February 23 2024

Canberra Youth Theatre is dedicated to raising the voices of young people, and helping them have their say about theatre, the arts, and everything in between. Our Young Critics program provides emerging voices the platform to share reviews such as the one below. The views expressed are those of the writer and do not reflect the views of Canberra Youth Theatre or its staff.

Alexi Clark-Mitchell, one of our Canberra Youth Theatre artists, reviews the Queanbeyan Players production of Next to Normal with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt.

Photography by Ben Appleton / Photox – Canberra Photography Services.

Next to Normal is a delightful show about a painfully relatable dysfunctional family.

To my surprise and delight, this show was a musical, and the music by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt perfectly enhanced the story. The flashing lights, swirls and dizzy music were perfectly in sync with the scene – this made you really feel as if you were on stage with them. The play is set on a fully static set, with the actors bringing on props and changing costumes to signify time and location. The set itself is beautifully made and designed. It includes a realistic kitchen-dining room set up which becomes a school, a doctor’s office and a club through music, lighting, and props. With the music and lighting, this set creates a wonderful atmosphere that really drags you into the story, transporting you into the room and making you really care about the characters and their struggles.

Sarah Hull is Diana, the mother who keeps the house together. Luke Ferdinands is Gabe, the mother’s boy. Dave Smith is Dan, the supportive husband and father. Lastly, Kara Murphy is Natalie, the busy overachieving daughter. Together they have wonderful chemistry, drawing out the animosity between mother and daughter, the bittersweet relationship between Diana and Gabe, and the sweet yet sarcastic relationship between Henry (Natalie’s friend, played by John Whinfield) and Natalie. The story is riveting as each of the characters are relatable, complex and well developed. It felt like they could be your friends, family or loved one. 

As the play goes on you feel as though you get to know each character  personally and are immersed in this world of dysfunctional family life, including the overachiever, the hallucinations, the romances and the mental health problems. This makes it all the more shocking when a twist in the first half of the show occurs. After this twist the show takes a darker turn, exploring themes of death and mental health. Even some of the lighter aspects of the first half such as a budding teen romance between Natalie and her new boyfriend Henry, take a darker turn, tuning in with the other elements of the show. The show itself ends on a bittersweet note with a wonderfully passionate musical number 

This was a wonderful show that made me laugh and cry – and then cry some more.  It was a beautiful story that was well worth seeing. 

Alexi Clark-Mitchell is an emerging actor who is passionate about the performing arts. They have been performing with Canberra Youth Theatre since 2019, including in the ensemble of Dags in 2022, and playing Chris in the Australian premiere of The Trials in 2023. They have recently completed a double major in Drama at Dickson College, where they performed in the school production Tess of the d’Urbervilles as Felix Clair and Retty Priddle. Alexi is interested in pursuing a range of opportunities in theatre, and is particularly interested in pursuing a career in film. As a non-binary actor, Alexi is able to portray roles across the gender spectrum.