Bad Girls the Musical
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Reviewed – 27th February 2019
“Rebecca Eastham, making her directorial debut, succeeds in bringing together an exceptionally talented cast and crew”
Britain is known for many cultural accomplishments, its contributions in theatre arguably taking centre stage. However, in my opinion, Britain does not do musicals. At least, we don’t do them well. Besides Andrew Lloyd Webber’s cloying melodramas (and ‘Billy Elliot’- that was quite good) our West End musical contributions have been meagre. So, the idea of transforming a “hard-hitting” British prison drama into a “hard-hitting” British prison musical – an already tricky concept – seems an unlikely formula for theatrical brilliance – a previous West End outing lasted little more than a couple of months. Nonetheless, ‘Bad Girls: The Musical’ comes to Upstairs at the Gatehouse to try its luck.
The premise does what it says on the tin. There is of course a lot of precedent for prison shows, and ‘Bad Girls: The Musical’ doesn’t waste any time defying expectations. You’ve got all the usual tropes – a couple of corrupt guards, a young up-and-comer trying to make things better, and a tired warden who’d prefer to turn a blind eye. The inmates are similarly predictable – vulnerable newcomer who can’t hack it, idiot bullies looking to take your lunch money, and so on.
The production itself is well done. Rebecca Eastham, making her directorial debut, succeeds in bringing together an exceptionally talented cast and crew. Considering the limitations on prison decor (grey on grey), Andrew Exeter’s set design does well to create something interesting. Fly-posters with ‘#MeToo’ and ‘I’m With Her’ slogans hang just outside the prison gates – a nice solution to the fact that the play’s themes are about a decade behind the current political conversation. The outside world’s progress makes no odds to the goings-on inside prison, is what I imagine these posters are supposed to suggest. Prison cell panels on wheels create varying spaces and divisions on stage. They also allow the inmates to remain on stage at all times, cleverly creating a row of cells behind whatever scene is taking place.
The talent on stage is quite spectacular. A four-piece band (directed by Ben David Papworth) works very hard to provide the entire soundtrack. Nicole Faraday (playing Shell Dockley), who featured in the original ‘Bad Girls’ TV drama, has a beautiful, honeyed voice as well as great comic physicality. In fact, nearly the whole cast showcases amazing vocal ability, and there are quite a few moments where sitting in such a small auditorium with so many talented singers feels very exclusive.
There are a lot of power ballads which, I suppose, lend a nice opportunity for the vocals to shine – one can easily imagine a heart-felt ‘Bad Girls’ number being belted out on X-Factor semi-finals. But it’s a bit weird to have so many moments of attempted earnestness beside songs like “All Banged Up Without The Bang” (“This little chassis needs a full front prang”). What’s more it’s these songs and scenes, jam-packed with sexual innuendo and comedy, that are genuinely entertaining, and if only the writers (Maureen Chadwick, Ann McManus and Kath Gotts) had done away with their bid to be “hard-hitting”, they might have written a very successful musical comedy.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Lidia Crisafulli
Bad Girls the Musical
Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 3rd March
Previously reviewed at this venue: