Theatre Royal Haymarket – until 24 November 2018
Every so often a show comes around which receives an exceptional amount of hype and has the West End buzzing. Heathers is currently that show and the good news is that it truly lives up to it. Based on the 1989 film starring Winona Ryder, this musical adaptation is full of energy and humour as it balances the line between political correctness and incorrectness. We find ourselves drawn towards the darkness but also cringing at the atrocities that go on.
Laurence O’Keefe had huge success with his adaptation of Legally Blonde and has applied his winning formula once again to bring this show to life with a camp, sassy and at times melancholic score. The plot follows Veronica Sawyer, a girl who is ‘different’ to the others at her school and longs for unity between all cliques and social standings.
However, in order to make it through high school, she befriends the rulers of the school, the “lipstick gustapo” made up of three girls named Heather. Our protagonist then meets a brooding new boy, Jason J.D Dean, who turns out to be a kill-happy psychopath. From then on there are deaths, parties, funerals and a whole lot of destruction.
When the movie came out in 1989 it became an instant hit and then received a cultish following when it opened Off-Broadway in 2014. The show’s transition to the West End has been no different as teens and young adults flood to the theatre with scrunchies in hair and pleated skirts on to see this wildly fun but disturbing musical brought to life.
The entire cast brings this show to life with vivacious passion and immense talent. Leading the crew, Carrie Hope Fletcher is powerful as she battles between what’s right and wrong and what she wants to do to boost her social standing/love life. She steps on stage to well-deserved cheers and blows the roof off with her entire performance, especially her new song ‘I Say No’ which gives her a backbone and the rough ‘Dead Girl Walking’ reprise. Veronica’s moments of strength are certainly where Fletcher shines but she is also humorous and likeable as she swoons over JD.
Under Andy Fickman’s direction, Jamie Muscato plays the mysteriously murderous JD with an intensity that you can’t help but be drawn to. Whilst it’s not wise to partner up with a murderer, we all love a bad boy and the combination of JD’s smooth talking and Jamie’s perfectly rough voice make us feel for him a little bit, even though he becomes a monster before our eyes. Muscato’s frenetic energy in Meant To Be Yours is certainly a theatrical highlight of the year.
The three Heathers waltz around the stage as one but have quirky personality traits which are owned and embodied by each. As leader of the pack, Heather Chandler who “floats above it all”, Jodie Steele is brilliant. Her permanent scowl, sharp movements, sublime vocals and stellar comedic timing make her perfect for the role. Sophie Isaacs brings an innocence to Heather McNamara which is interesting to play out. Whilst she is part of the mean girl group, it’s clear from the outset that she is merely following the pack and wishes to break away. Isaacs’ rendition of Lifeboat is a pin-drop silence moment which stands out in the show. As the final Heather, Duke, T’Shan Williams is feisty and aggressive, with her solo Never Shut Up Again earning her laughs and cheers from the audience.
Stand outs of the cast also include Jenny O’Leary who gives a moving performance of Kindergarten Boyfriend, Rebecca Lock who brings the entire theatre to life with her fiery, belt-tastic Shine a Light and Christopher Chung and Dominic Andersen who are humour embodied as the jocks who combine to create Kram.
Gary Lloyd’s choreography is especially effective with the Heathers, namely during the iconic Candy Store which sees them sashaying round the stage but in true Heathers style, being in complete control the entire time and never stepping out of sync with one another.
Mention must go to Ben Cracknell’s lighting, which like the music, intensifies every emotion on stage. Particularly effective is the varying tones of light between the characters. The Heathers are of course lit in their iconic colours (brought to life vibrantly through David Shields’ costumes) but whats most striking are the moments when Veronica is lit in warm spotlights whilst JD is basked in stark, almost grey tones. This highlights the contrast between the true evil and the kind-of-forced-into-evil in a clever way.
Most of the subject matter of this show is uncomfortable but sadly ever present: bullying, suicide, murder, depression. Heathers does a good job of satirising the sensationalism of them and shines a light (pun intended) on the fact that unity and kindness are always the way forward.
Whilst this isn’t a light hearted show in content, the songs are crazily catchy, the talent level is ridiculously high and it’s just a really good night out. For Big Fun, get down to the Theatre Royal Haymarket!
Heathers runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 24th November
photo credit: Pamela Raith