“a shouty affair that drowns out much of the tragedy, truth and trauma running through the heart of the piece”
I approach “Heathers the Musical” somewhat as an outsider. In a seemingly packed, though socially distanced auditorium, I am detached from the majority of the audience. Although I am hoping to be drawn in, and accepted. Based on the eighties’ movie, which originally flopped only to become a cult; the musical rapidly became a cult in its own right while skipping the pre-requisite critical rejection that qualifies its status. What marks this production out from the start is the enthusiasm with which it is presented and received. Everything about it is heightened and it often feels like you are in a cartoon.
Set very specifically in 1989, it adopts the high school setting so popular at the time, but twists the genre into something much darker. It reaches further than the typical subject matter of peer pressure and rebellion and attempts to grapple with teenage suicide and the fatal attraction of belonging to a clique. The clique in question is a trio of girls, all called Heather, who hold sway with a swagger that pushes credibility to the limit. For reasons governed by plot clichés, the protagonist – Veronica – is desperate to run with this pack. To say that she eventually outruns them is no spoiler; we can all see it coming as visibly as the love interest side-line.
What rescues the storyline are the quirks, the shocks and body-count that we don’t anticipate. And the oddball minor characters that outshine the leads in most cases. Andy Fickman’s production is a shouty affair that drowns out much of the tragedy, truth and trauma running through the heart of the piece. The more successful moments are when the volume gets turned down and the irony and sporadic subversiveness is allowed to be heard.
Christina Bennington is in fine voice as Veronica, torn between following her fantasy (in the shape of the three Heathers) or her conscience, represented by the Baudelaire reading, enigmatic Jason ‘JD’ Dean; gleefully played with a tongue-in-cheek assuredness by Jordan Luke Gage. His rapid metamorphosis from sympathetic to psychopathic is fun to watch. Less so are the eponymous Heathers; Jodie Steele, Bobbie Little and Frances Mayli McCann who screech far too much for their own good. At least Steele has the advantage of her ‘Heather’ being killed off fairly early on, allowing her to come back and haunt the perpetrators – a sardonic ghost that sheds more light and shade on proceedings than those still alive and clinging onto a script that is pulling them under.
It is buoyed up by the music that, despite its subject matter, powers the piece with energy and optimism. Bizarrely this sense of optimism and misplaced nostalgia is what characterises “Heathers” which, in effect, is a musical about high school killers. It makes light of the issues but doesn’t succeed in highlighting them by the humour. But what do I know? As I said at the start – I am the outsider; detached from the rest of the audience. There’s no denying this is a solid production, with a dream cast of West End talent. And there’s no denying its guaranteed success. It has bludgeoned its way into its cult status – but at the cost of sensitivity.
“a pukka production that does a lovely jubbly job at maintaining the heart and soul of a classic”
The Trotters have come up in the world. They’re now residing in the West End. But you can’t take Peckham out of these geezers. Only Fools and Horses The Musical has been in the pipeline for many years, but now it has finally arrived, brimming with the familiar warmth and humour that made the original sitcom one of the nation’s most-loved tv shows.
The genius behind the sitcom, John Sullivan had ruminated with the idea of turning his beloved creation into a song and dance show decades ago. He even collaborated with Chas Hodges, of Chas & Dave fame, to noodle around song ideas. Sadly, due to both men’s passing, the gauntlet was passed to the writer’s son, Jim Sullivan, who acquired the help of another tv great, Paul Whitehouse, in finishing where his father had left off.
Unquestionably a tall order to package approximately forty four hours of material into a two hour show, yet Sullivan Jnr and Whitehouse do an excellent job at piecing it all together, picking the most memorable punchlines and visual gags to incorporate. Based around the ‘Dates’ episode where Del Boy first meets his other half, Raquel, through a dating agency, as well as Rodney’s marriage to Cassandra, this stage adaptation sticks to Musical Theatre ‘boy gets girl’ conventions. Iconic scenes are given a nod to, whilst fresh material such as a fantasy sequence that flashes forward from the show’s 1980s setting, to the hipster Peckham of today, is an entertaining addition. The quality of the original writing is not diminished, as Sullivan and Whitehouse have managed to bottle its infinite lovability.
The time and care taken in the script doesn’t always replicate itself in the music, with many songs feeling like the have been idly added as padding. Writing responsibilities were fractured between eleven composers/lyricists, which makes the consistency questionable. The witty, mockney lyrics of ‘Bit of a Sort’, and ‘Where Have All The Cockneys Gone?’ are examples of where the songs really lend themselves in developing the characters, whilst ‘The Girl’, crooned by Raquel (Dianne Pilkington) is reminiscent of Nancy in Lionel Bart’s Oliver! However, the random addition of two pop songs and a couple from Chas & Dave’s cannon of hits, feels as much as a rip off as the dodgy goods out the back of Del Boy’s van.
The cast could quite easily have chosen to impersonate the original stars, yet, for the most case, the decision to embody the essence of the character instead is rightfully selected. However, Peter Baker’s uncanny vocal and physical resemblance to Roger Lloyd Pack’s Trigger is something of a treat. The three generations of the Trotter household are well performed. Tom Bennett is a loveable jack-the-lad Del Boy, channeling his cocky exuberance, and newcomer Ryan Hutton excels as downtrodden Rodney, whilst Paul Whitehouse makes a delightful cameo as grandad. A special mention should be made to Oscar Conlon-Morrey whose virtuosic ability to play many of the small ‘bit’ parts got some of the biggest laughs.
Where the show may be occasionally lacking in the musical department, it makes up for in its barrage of vintage comedy, cleverly bypassing any of the derogatory ‘humour’ of yesteryear. Overall, a pukka production that does a lovely jubbly job at maintaining the heart and soul of a classic.