‘Melonade’ at VAULT Festival review – Glitsy gameshow has a gripe with Gove’s education reforms


What happens when life gives you melons instead of lemons? In Becks Turner’s surreal and sassy gameshow, this question is answered in an elaborate and entertaining fashion, and forms the basis for an entire play taking aim at Tory education policies harming neurodivergent minds and stifling creativity.

Amongst many other controversies, current Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove is infamous for his sweeping reforms to the school curriculum as Education Secretary during the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition of 2010 to 2015. Exams testing memory and recollection were prioritised over coursework which recognised creativity, which can be particularly devastating when you have dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and ADHD, as in Turner’s case.

Sporting a glamorous green jacket, bold red glasses and a mortarboard made to look like a melon, Turner ushers members of the audience through a number of imaginative minigames, from a balloon-popping challenge where two contestants sporting Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove masks have to hoard as much money as possible, to a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire meets Pictionary game where an individual has to guess what the crowd has drawn on their whiteboards in a matter of seconds. Winners collect a gold star, proudly presented on a plush read cushion as if to ridicule the over-exaggeration Canservatives place on targets which are ultimately meaningless. Losers, meanwhile, are forced to wear a humiliating dunce hat for the remainder of the show.

At one point, one neurotypical audience member (that is, someone whose brain works in the way considered ‘normal’ by society) is informed they have “neurological normality disorder”, Turner’s take on a common sarcastic joke deployed by neurodivergent activists where ‘neurotypicality’ is framed as being the debilitating condition which disabilities such as dyslexia, autism and more are so often described as being.

Though for a show which seeks to be informative away from the absurd, and has already explained to us what ‘neurotypical’ means earlier on in the play, Turner choosing not to use this and instead come up with a non-existent disorder to make a point is a tad awkward and jarring. Similarly, Turner asks each member of the audience if they identify as ‘neurodiverse’, even though it’s impossible for an individual to identify as ‘neurodiverse’, and the correct term is ‘neurodivergent’.

Alongside the light-hearted teasing of the audience, Turner is a laid-back and natural host, and when Melonade is all about defying traditional standards (not just in the exam hall), then it makes sense for her to perform in a completely authentic manner, with little theatricality beyond a healthy bit of silliness. She isn’t afraid to self-deprecate across the show either, as one of the play’s funniest moments comes with her doing her own take on the cliché count-along gameshow hosts do at the end of a round, only to realise she can’t exactly help because she has dyscalculia.

And when she’s not tasking people with destroying a load of melons, she’s sharing her own stories with us from her time in education, including appalling ableism enacted by her teachers. Many of us will have seen a depiction of words floating on the page to describe dyslexia, but here Turner offers up a clever and accessible explanation by describing how dyslexics operate as visual learners, and how it forces them to understand letters as 3D shapes they have to put together on-demand to form words and sentences.

Such a vivid description is a perfect demonstration of how the more creative and artistic subjects better lend themselves to neurodivergent pupils, yet for a facts and figures-obsessed government, this type of talent is hard to measure, and soon come the cuts to arts funding, and Turner’s own gameshow. When she runs out of options to express her true, neurodivergent self, things get explosive, and the final monologue is particularly scathing.

Both educational and entertaining, Turner’s gameshow is a passionate call to scrap society’s obsession with stats and standards, and play to everyone’s strengths – and for that, it’s more than worthy of a gold star.

Melonade is now playing at VAULT Festival until 17 March.

Production Images: G&T Theatre.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘That’s Ace’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.

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