MusicalReviewSouth West

Heathers The Musical – Theatre Royal Plymouth

Reviewer: Helen Tope

Book, Music & Lyrics: Kevin Murphy / Laurence O’Keefe

Director: Andy Fickman

To film fans, it’s the defining teen movie of the 1980’s. Heathers, starring Christian Slater and Winona Ryder, shaped our perceptions of life in an American high school. In this adaptation by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe, Heathers The Musical recreates the social strata at Westerburg High. Leading the pack is a formidable clique: three girls called Heather (Chandler, Duke and McNamara). They dress in plaid, love a game of croquet, but they are the original mean girls. For those at the bottom of the Westerburg food chain, life is not so charmed. It’s so bad that when Veronica Sawyer (played by Jenna Innes) gets the chance to join their exclusive club, she doesn’t look back. But life on the inside turns out to be no picnic either: Veronica gains in popularity but the Heathers are an acquired taste. Finding herself wanting more, Veronica bumps into new kid Jason ‘J.D’ Dean (Jacob Fowler). He is cool, well-read with more than a hint of danger. As she climbs into his bedroom window at night, Veronica’s eagerness can be forgiven: there aren’t many boys reading Baudelaire in Sherwood, Ohio.

Their relationship intensifies quickly. J.D has little time for Veronica’s friends, and under his influence, she ditches the Heathers. The break-up does not go well, and it begins a cycle of violence as a desire for revenge meets teenage angst.

The musical treads carefully between 80’s nostalgia, while acknowledging a whole new generation of fans. It repositions the Heathers story from a 21st century perspective (My Dead Gay Son ends in a very different place to where it started), but the music leans into the 1980’s cultural landscape. The power ballad is put to good use (highlights include Our Love is God, Seventeen). However, it is fair to say that the musical doesn’t quite match the bleakness of the film. With a sizeable songlist to work through, there is a bouncy quality that holds us back from the real psychological nitty-gritty, but there are still poignant moments. Kindergarten Boyfriend sees Martha Dunnstock (Kingsley Morton) muse on the days when relationships were simpler.

It is in the comedy where Heathers is at its best. The Queen Bee motif is sharpened by Verity Thompson’s knowing interjections. Heather Chandler may boast about drinking and chasing quarterbacks in the fabulous Candy Store, but there’s hidden depths. The carefully observed types: the Heather just waiting for her chance (Elisse Zavou); and the jocks that blend buffoonery with menace (Alex Woodward and Morgan Jackson); flesh out the narrative. As the lines in the social strata become blurred, Heathers excels in the moments when it’s pushing our buttons.

The film and musical don’t perfectly sync up – matching a cult classic is near impossible – but Heathers The Musical succeeds on its own terms. It is a searing portrait of adolescence (and a sobering reflection on how little has changed). But these are characters you want to spend time with. Raucous, and at times outrageous. Peer pressure has never sounded so good.

Runs until: 8 April 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Raucous and outrageous

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The Reviews Hub - South West

The Southwest team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. 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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