The national tour of Heathers The Musical reached High Wycombe last night, set to light up the Wycombe Swan until 27 Nov (Saturday). It’s the latest in a long line of US cult films adapted for stage that’s seen Legally Blonde, Footloose, 9 to 5, and Hairspray pass through our county in recent years.
If your musical theatre allegiance lies more with the intensely creative Matildas, Book of Mormons and Hamiltons of the world you may want to look away now, but there’s no denying that Heathers The Musical makes engaging, rollocking theatre, especially for younger audiences with serious themes of bullying, sexual identity, suicide, bulimia and school violence delivered with high octane energy and subversive humour.
The original 1989 film starred Winona Ryder as an outsider at her local high school who takes up with the ‘Heathers’ – the school’s wealthy, entitled, most popular and most unpleasant girls – to fit in. Before she knows it, she’s being mean to her dumpy, kind best friend Martha, has taken up with a charismatic, mysterious new kid J.D (played in the film by Christian Slater) and her ‘perfect’ new life spirals out of control.
Rebecca Wickes, formerly of Six and We Will Rock You, takes the title role of Veronica Sawyer and has a smooth, effortless voice that’s a pleasure to listen to. She acts with conviction too, though the script as a whole never offers enough nuance for any real emotional depth. At times this creates an almost panto effect, with the three ‘Heathers’ – particularly Maddison Firth as the leader, playing for laughs (and mostly getting them) but losing any subtlety in the process.
That said, in the grand scheme, the pros outweighed the cons here. The dance routines were tight, led by the ‘Heathers’ and their excellent vampish Candy Store routine, and there were excellent individual performances from Mhairi Angus as Martha (such a pure voice and perhaps the only character I truly rooted for), and some perfectly-timed comedic acting from Rory Phelan and Liam Doyle as the dopey jocks Ram and Kurt. And I laughed out loud to the cheerful My Dead Gay Son, with its surprise happy ending.
Heathers is most definitely not subtle theatre, but if you’re looking to bond with your teen (14+, as it’s pretty raunchy in places) or early twenties kids, or are looking for some Eighties inspired escapism, you’ve just found it.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Teens, fans of high school clique films, those wanting a bright, fun night’s entertainment.
Not for: If you’re after something subtler, directed at a more grown-up audience, this might not be for you.
Heathers The Musical, 23-27 Nov. Tickets from £15. Wycombe Swan, St. Mary Street, High Wycombe, HP11 2XE.