Book, Music and Lyrics: Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe
Director: Andy Fickman
It’s Veronica Sawyer’s final year of high school and she can’t wait for it to be over. In a school ruled by the impossibly glamorous ‘Heathers’ (an unholy triad of bully girls improbably linked by the same given name), she’s frumpish and her only friend is the lumpen Martha Dunnstock, herself often a figure of fun. Then the Heathers discover Veronica has a talent that they can use for their own ends and suddenly she’s catapulted into the top tier of school society, doing anything, even being part of the humiliation of Martha, to retain the Heathers’ protection. Enter the dark and mysterious JD: he’s new to the school and rarely speaks but his defence of Veronica against the muscle-headed jocks impresses her mightily. But JD is himself broken, and things are set to get a whole lot worse before they can get any better.
Heathers the Musical sees itself as a black comedy, touching on various themes related to teenage angst – including bullying, suicide, eating disorders, violence, homophobia and sexual assault. But these dark themes are all explored in a comic-book manner that perhaps understates and dilutes their impact. It’s all high energy and bright colours and if the score isn’t especially memorable, it’s sung with conviction. Indeed, every member of the cast has a terrific singing voice: Rebecca Wickes as Veronica brings soul to her songs, there’s plenty of pathos in Mhairi Angus’ rendition of Kindergarten Boyfriend as Martha, and Lizzy Parker, as the least unpleasant of the Heathers, brings a poignancy to Lifeboat. Choreography from Gary Lloyd is fast-moving and true to the period.
Wickes brings a sincerity to Veronica. Her motivations and thinking behind her difficult decisions are clear as she comes to terms with the events in the show and her own part in them. Martha is rarely the centre of attention, but in her scenes, Angus brings truth and a sweet voice. Her reactions to the treatment Martha receives are well-judged and sympathetic. Simon Gordon’s JD is suitably mysterious as well as menacing and keeps us guessing about his character’s own inner turmoil and past. Maddison Firth as the uber Heather is thoroughly obnoxious but also manages to bring some comedic relief later in the piece. More slapstick comedy is served up by Liam Doyle and Rory Phelan as the jocks, although their characters, like so many, are two-dimensional, painted using broad strokes and stereotypes. It becomes increasingly difficult to like and empathise with many of the characters
David Shield’s set is based around the school building with elements moved in and out smoothly to make the other locations. Ben Cracknell’s lighting design evokes the 80s mood well, directing our attention, albeit not always subtly, to the action.
Heathers the Musical is certainly a spectacle. Always on the move, it is a treat for the senses. But it remains somehow unsatisfying in its shallow treatment of its darker elements.
Runs until 25 September 2021 and on tour