Heathers the Musical – Theatre Royal, Nottingham

Reviewer: Kerrie Walters

Book, Music and Lyrics: Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe

Director: Andy Fickman

Based upon the 1988 cult movie starring Christian Slater and Winona Ryder, Heathers is embarking on a UK-wide tour.The story follows angsty nobody, the impressionable Veronica Sawyer (Eleanor Walsh) who attempts to survive high school by forging hall passes for the tantalising trio at the top of the food chain – The Heathers. Veronica is taken under the wing of head Heather, Heather Chandler and from here the teen hijinks ensue. But will Veronica regret her decision to become the de facto fourth Heather?

Without releasing any spoilers, the narrative takes quite the turn upon the introduction of Veronica’s boyfriend, JD (Jacob Fowler). With his dark and brooding stare, penchant for death and a silky baritone voice he is a formidable antagonist. Fowler has a great chemistry with Walsh with a highlight being Our Love is God, the macabre ending to Act One. His physicality is that of a strong assured boyfriend, but he quickly flips between the flippant immaturity of a kid who got into the gun cabinet and the psychopathy of a seasoned killer within the blink of an eye. Fowler is flawless in this role and is a more than worthy opponent to the sadistic popular clique at Westerberg High.

The first and most formidable opponent JD takes on with the help of Veronica is the Mythic Bitch herself, Heather Chandler (Verity Thompson). Despite her diminutive frame, Thompson cuts quite the imposing figure. A force of nature, she is beautiful and terrible as she looms over all that happens at Westerberg High. She leads the iconic trio with poise and delights in her own wickedness. Thompson is secure and powerful in every step she takes, pulling focus with every scene, a dynamic omnipresence throughout. Nevertheless, while the show is well and truly domineered by Heather Chandler, this is a company piece. Each individual performer is a powerhouse and together what they create is an explosive romp through the battlefield that is high school.

Gary Lloyd’s choreography is performed with effervescence and the ensemble cast is incredible, particularly in the slow-motion sequences where their nonverbal acting is really on show. Lloyd has cleverly bridged the gap between the terrible events of the plot and the need to create an entertaining and consumable show. Heathers is a dark comedy, with quite an unlikeable narrative that features murder, teen suicide, and, frankly, terrible people. Yet somehow, the killer soundtrack is bright and peppy. Coupled with Lloyd’s movement and the exquisite lighting design by the incomparable Ben Cracknell, the horrific story is almost sidelined by the sheer spectacle unfolding before you.

Whilst the show certainly does not shy away from deeply uncomfortable subjects, they are treated with campness and frivolity. This works well in the context of the show but is sometimes extremely close to the knuckle, notably in the scene You’re Welcome in which Veronica finds herself in a horrific situation that leaves the audience squirming in their seats. Criminal duo Alex Woodward and Morgan Jackson as Kurt and Ram are an excellent double act and their physical timing is impeccable; they are certainly more Scooby Doo than hardcore horror and that is what makes them entertaining.

Andy Fickman has pulled together an iconic piece of musical theatre that will leave a lasting impression. With its difficult subject matter in mind the show does carry an age rating of 14 and audience members under this age should be accompanied by a responsible adult. Subject matter aside though, this show is incredible, a faultless performance from start to finish. This is musical theatre at its best, entertainment that is as subtle as a sledgehammer.

Runs until 2 September 2023 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

A hurricane of a show

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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