Saturday 2 December 2023


 Curve, Leicester

1st December, 2023

High flying, adored

So young, the instant queen

Following on from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar (the latter playing at Curve in February), Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice collaborated on their next hit, Evita. Hal Prince’s 1978 production provided breakout roles for Elaine Paige and Patti LuPone as Argentina’s first lady and tabloid diva Eva Perón. 45 years on, Nikolai Foster’s revival (which is this year’s Christmas show at Curve) nods to the chic and glamour of that original production, whilst giving the musical a modern aesthetic, stripping back the political context to focus on the nature of power and how it changes Eva.

As the house lights lower, the safety curtain rises on our protagonist’s coffin on a high platform on an otherwise empty stage. The company, dressed all in black, surround her coffin singing “Requiem aeternum dona Evita”. The austere image instantly pitches Eva Perón, however much the audience might know of her, as an iconic figure to the people of Argentina. Appearing from the audience, we’re introduced to Tyrone Huntley’s narrator Che. There are a few moments in the production where you’re not quite sure who you’re supposed to be watching, but once you’ve spotted Huntley, he is instantly likeable. Che is an everyman whose commentary on the action takes us through twenty years of history. Huntley’s Che is youthful, perhaps existing outside the timeframe of the narrative, and whose omniscience makes him the show’s conscience.


One of the criticisms often levelled at Evita has been that it shies away from Eva Perón’s fascist leanings, controlling the press and squashing any dissenters of her husband, who modelled his politics on Mussolini – briefly mentioned in ‘Rainbow Tour’, but not delved into any deeper. The distancing effect of the musical, as written by Lloyd Webber and Rice, often poses a challenge for productions that wish to get their teeth into the subject matter with a little more bite. Should we empathise with Evita? Is she really a saint? Despite some strikingly austere military-inspired choreography from Adam Murray, the political context is not the focus of this production, more so Eva’s rise to power and ability to connect to the people.

A notable directorial decision is Foster’s use of cameras, live-streaming Martha Kirby onto a huge screen at the back of the stage. This recontextualises the story within the age of gluttonous media – now, more than ever, celebrities’ lives are under the scrutiny of adoring fans (and vitriolic trolls) 24/7. Those astute enough use this to their advantage. Eva (excellently played by Kirby) milks the camera, playing every coy smile and arched eyebrow for maximum effect. The extreme close ups cleverly humanise her while also alluding at her manipulative side.

There will be comparisons made to the works of Ivo Van Hove or Jamie Lloyd, but this production is undeniably in Curve’s house style. In Curve’s first five years, there was an uneasiness about the productions on its main stage. But under Foster’s helm, they’ve gained a confidence and style which does justice to each show’s source material as well as maintaining a clear identity which makes for an unmissable night out. Honed in earlier productions like Sunset Boulevard, West Side Story and Billy Elliot, Foster takes a similar approach to Evita. Michael Taylor’s design strips the stage to its bones and embraces its vastness. Rigs and wings are fully visible, showcasing the technical and architectural prowess of the theatre – and the theatre of politics. Adam Fisher’s sound design is crystal clear – all the more important for sung-through musicals – every lyric is audible and balanced beautifully with the orchestrations. I was also impressed with Edd Lindley’s costumes for Eva; from stylish power suits to a sumptuous velvet ball gown, it’s easy to see why Eva would appeal to the masses.

Having not seen Evita before, I was impressed with Lloyd Webber and Rice’s music and lyrics, even if they may only skim the surface of a politically and socially divisive figure. Hearing classics such as ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’, ‘High Flying, Adored’ and ‘Buenos Aires’ sung live is an indisputable treat. I would like to see a more traditional production with which to compare Foster’s vision. However, this is a thoroughly enjoyable piece. Curve’s aesthetic ought to make a striking and memorable addition to the musical’s history.

Evita plays at Curve, Leicester until 13th January, 2024. For more information, please visit

Also, do check out the Christmas tree in Curve’s foyer made of props from previous productions. We spotted suitcases from Finding Home, lights from Beautiful, boxing gloves from Billy Elliot, hats from A Chorus Line and washing up powder from My Beautiful Laundrette. How many can you spot?

Martha Kirby (Eva Perón) - Credit: Marc Brenner

Wednesday 1 November 2023

The Drifters Girl

 Curve, Leicester

31st October, 2023

The Drifters are like the Yankees…

The players may change but there'll only ever be one New York Yankees”

There has been a surge in bio-musicals in recent years such as Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Tina, The Cher Show, Ain’t Too Proud and Broadway hits MJ and A Beautiful Noise. While shows such as these have been critically hit-and-miss, there’s no denying there’s a booming market for real-life stories uplifted by classic songs. They satiate audiences’ desire for nostalgia and are a safe bet for both producers and punters alike – there’s little chance of a dodgy score with a jukebox musical, and the ubiquitous megamix finales are nigh on guaranteed to get people on their feet. An additional benefit of the bio-musical over original story jukebox shows is that they are often rooted in the creative process (Beautiful is an excellent example of this). They reveal the background behind some of our most loved tunes and glimpses into the backstage life of glamorous idols, and provide a history lesson wrapped up in glitter and jazz hands. Writer Ed Curtis and Tina Treadwell’s The Drifters Girl takes this biographical approach. Led by Jonathan Church’s solid direction, it’s a playful and slick retrospective of the early R&B group, The Drifters, and their determined manager Faye Treadwell.

Curtis frames the narrative with Treadwell’s court case over ownership of The Drifters trademark. Treadwell tells her story to the Judge and her daughter, explaining how she was a key figure in forming and preserving the group throughout the 1950s and 60s, despite the frequent changes in the band’s line up. As a young teacher from Arkansas, Faye meets George Treadwell at a Nat King Cole gig and soon joins his New York music managing business, later marrying him. The couple promote The Drifters focusing on the brand rather than the individual members, insisting that it’s the songs audiences love, not the singer. We follow Faye through the ups and downs of her career: wrestling with pop star egos and the casual sexism and racism faced by a woman of colour in the music industry at the time; to The Drifters’ successful ascent of the music charts both in the USA and the UK, and her husband’s untimely death.

Curtis packs a lot into the two and a half hour running time – I learned a lot about a group I knew very little about previously – yet the very nature of the band’s history means that we are denied any deep dive into the intricacies and intimacies of their lives. The ‘revolving door’ make up of the group (think The Sugababes times ten) means that just as one member joins another leaves, and we rarely get to see them as individuals. An exception to this anonymity is the musical’s treatment of Rudy Lewis, the one-time lead Drifter, a talented but troubled soul struggling with addiction and his sexuality. While this episode is still brief, Lewis is an empathetic and complex character. Even so, this is very much Faye’s story and she is the driving force and emotional heart of the musical.


Church, Curtis and co. excel in propelling the narrative via musical set pieces. ‘Rat Race’ becomes a playful journey through the tumultuous chopping and changing of Drifters.  Some fast and furious staging sees Names flash upon the backdrop, the cast cut and change in a whirlwind of commotion. Similarly, the ‘Come On Over To My Place’ sequence effectively portrays the commonplace racism in 1960s/70s Britain as Faye and the group schlep from hotel to hotel in search of hospitality. Church’s masterstroke is his use of doubling. The tiny cast of six is utilised to it’s utmost and Miles Anthony Daley, Ashford Campbell, Tarik Frimpong and Ethan Davis work their socks off playing a myriad of roles peppered between slick musical numbers. Understudy Loren Anderson does a creditable job of stepping into Faye Treadwell’s shoes, but occasionally feels a little underpowered in comparison to her co-stars. However, as we’re relatively early in the run, I expect Anderson to become more confident in the role as the tour progresses.

In addition to Church’s expert handling of the small cast, some well-choreographed transitions and Anthony Ward’s sleek music studio inspired design contribute to a very slick production. While The Drifters Girl is at times slight and rushed, the musical performances of classics such as ‘Saturday Night At The Movies’, ‘Under The Boardwalk’ and ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’ and polished set pieces are highly entertaining, adding up to an enjoyable, non-taxing night at the theatre.


The Drifters Girl plays at Curve, Leicester until 4th November 2023.

For full tour details please visit:


The company of The Drifters Girl. Credit: The Other Richard

Friday 27 October 2023

Secret Blog: The pandemic plays

In early March 2020, my organisation advised employees to start working from home due to the rise in Covid-19 cases. Along with many other office workers, I stuffed a bag with my laptop, docking station, notebooks, a headset and any smart shoes I kept in the office, none of us knowing how long to expect this measure to last. On my way home, I popped into the library (I work at a university) to take out some play texts. Clearly, my priorities were having some good reading material to keep me occupied during lockdown!

As a student, I often enjoyed using the library to read a wide range of plays even if they weren't the focus of my studies. I had a voracious appetite for reading and was a part of a reading group for a local amateur theatre for a while. Even after graduating, working as a zero-hour agency staff member at a different university, I'd often sit in the library between shifts reading plays I knew about but never had the opportunity to see. That particular university didn't have a Drama course so the plays tended to be classics along with a smaller section of modern plays. The contemporary play texts could probably be held in one hand. I spent many hours not being paid (and in some cases being paid) reading the plays of Tony Kushner, Caryll Churchill, Timberlake Wertenbaker, Arnold Wesker, David Hare and so on. Many of them hadn't been taken out for years, some were dusty - literally or otherwise!

Since then, I've not had much chance to read plays as often as I'd like but I felt the coming weeks would hold the opportunity to remedy this. On this occasion, the plays were 'Sweet Bird of Youth' and Other Plays by Tennessee Williams, David Mamet: Plays One, and Rock 'n' Roll by Tom Stoppard.

September 2023. Three and a half years and 99 automatic renewals later I received an auto-generated email saying I'd reached the maximum number of renewals and needed to return the books. I hadn't even opened them during that time! Lockdown instead had been taken up with WFH, clearing our garden, re-organising a wedding, and immersing ourselves into a Netflix subscription. And reading other things. So without having read the plays I took home in a pre-lockdown world, I was now dusting them off my own bookshelf and returning them to the library. Until the next pandemic, David Mamet: Plays One!

Before I returned them, I read the Stoppard. As I opened it, the spine not yet quite cracked, a slip of paper fell out. On first glance, you'd have thought it was blank the ink was so faded. On closer inspection, I could see it was the receipt from the last time the book had been taken out of the library in 2014. I find these sort of things fascinating. We were recently in a secondhand bookshop in Aberystwyth where my wife bought a copy of Daphne Du Maurier's Jamaica Inn. Inside it was a makeshift bookmark, a family photograph taken outside a Jamaica Inn in Cornwall, the year 1974 pencilled on the back. Who did this belong to? Did they intend to donate the photograph with the book? Would they like it returned?

I looked at the library receipt from almost a decade ago, pondering how much the world had changed since. I looked closer. It had my name on it. I vaguely recall taking out some Stoppard plays when I was completing my undergraduate degree in the summer of 2014. I recall reading Arcadia but must have returned the others unread. Nine years later, it was back in my possession, still unread and about to be returned to the library once more. What a fittingly Stoppardian trick of time.

Friday 6 October 2023

The Book Thief

 Curve, Leicester

4th October, 2023

It was the wrong song, in the wrong key, but it was music nonetheless

I was sixteen when I first read Markus Zusak’s 2006 novel The Book Thief. It was love at first sight. I was completely enamoured with Zusak’s words and the characters they conjured, as were many fellow readers the world over. As a novel that is so potently about words – their meanings, evocations, the power they can wield – it poses adaptors with a tricky conundrum in how to visualise and animate the written language. The 2013 film adaptation failed to seize the popular consciousness in the manner the book had, so how does the musical (adapted by novelist Jodi Picoult, Timothy Allen McDonald, and composers Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson) fare? First seen at the Octagon Theatre Bolton last year, this production works as a faithful adaptation that harnesses stage craft to create some wonderfully theatrical set pieces.

Famously narrated by Death (an omnipresent and omniscient Obioma Ugoala) we are guided through the suburbs of Nazi Germany, trailing young orphan, Liesel Meminger (played at this performance by Eirini Louskou) as she experiences the horrors of war and the wonderous escapism and heroism of the written word. Fostered by the kindly Hans Hubermann (Jack Lord) and his bristly wife Rosa (Mina Anwar), Liesel quickly grows in confidence and begins to commit small acts of rebellion – first by stealing pages from the charred embers of a Nazi book burning, and then by befriending the young Jewish man hidden in the basement. Fans of the novel will delight in spotting many memorable elements popping up in Picoult and McDonald’s book – from the frequent peppering of dialogue with the German swearwords ‘saumensch’ and ‘arschloch’, to the rich associations drawn between colour, emotion and memory. And, not least, to Death’s concluding thought: ‘I’m haunted by humans’.

Samsel and Anderson’s music is pleasant, and there's a variety of different styles at play, from the Oom-pah-pah-esqe “Late to the Party”, jazzier numbers like “Look at Jesse Owens”, to the more stirring numbers such as “In This Book”. Tom Jackson Greaves’ imaginative choreography translates Zusak’s powerful use of language into movement, capturing the spirit of the piece really elegantly (as did his work in Amélie). There are occasions where the piece feels a little overly choreographed but, overall, the creative team produce some lovely lyrical motifs that draw in the audience. They also provide emotional beacons throughout the piece, most notably in Liesel’s simple lullaby “Hello Stars” and, perhaps my favourite lyric of the night, ‘It was the wrong song, in the wrong key, but it was music nonetheless’. I initially had misgivings around the musicalisation of the story but these gems justify the form alone.

Picoult and McDonald have placed more emphasis on the contemporary links to Zusak’s narrative, which while heavy-handed are sobering nonetheless: ‘Mein Kampf – a best seller in 1930… and again in 2016’. Dramatically, the musical is at its best during Liesel and Max’s fantastical daydreams. The imaginary boxing match between Max and Hitler is neatly choreographed and excellently incorporates Sam Wilde’s puppets into the action. Similarly, “The Word Shaker” sequence is dramatically exciting in director Lotte Wakeham’s hands and the abstract story makes a fine platform for Wilde’s puppets. The rough, ragdoll-like beings are made of screwed up and discarded pages of books, with only basic identifiable features being picked out (Hitler’s moustache; Liesel’s plaits). This creative figurativism is a great theatrical way of demonstrating that language is at once a great leveller and a great weapon.

I also enjoyed the use of Dick Straker’s projections throughout the set. The somewhat crude line drawings are both evocative of Liesel’s inner world, while also creating a sense of reminiscence and unity with the source material (which features some stark yet beautiful illustrations). While the production doesn’t quite pack the emotional punch of the novel – I feel the ending is a little rushed in what is otherwise an extremely well-paced show – Wakeham and co. produce some lovely moments which combine music, movement and narrative.

 The Book Thief plays at Curve, Leicester until 14th October. For further information please visit

Daniel Krikler (centre) as Max & the cast of The Book Thief. Credit Pamela Raith

Sunday 24 September 2023

The Real and Imagined History of The Elephant Man

 Nottingham Playhouse

23rd September 2023, matinee

Ladies and gentlemen, examine your soul

The story of Joseph Merrick, the disfigured man from 19th century Leicester now thought to have had Proteus Syndrome, is well known by now. Or, at least, so people think. On stage alone, the 1977 play by Bernard Pomerance has starred the likes of David Bowie and Bradley Cooper, making it as much a spectacle that audiences flock to as the Victorian freakshows of which Merrick was the centre. In Pomerance’s play we’re told Merrick ‘exposes himself to crowds who gape and yawp’. The crowds may gape and yawp but to say Merrick exposed himself implies he played an active and willing part. Tom Wright’s play, which is receiving its European premiere at the Nottingham Playhouse (the play has previously been staged in Australia in 2017), challenges those assumptions, presenting a fuller picture of Merrick’s life from Leicester workhouses to a London hospital. Led by a cast comprising of disabled, deaf and neurodivergent actors, the story has been triumphantly reclaimed allowing us to see it through a modern, more inclusive lens.

The first act takes us on a tour of Merrick’s early years in the Midlands. Simon Kenny’s design introduces us to industrial England. Metal structures crunch above the stage, Jai Morjaria’s lighting shines through the fog, and a large crate highlights imagery of entrapment. We see scenes from Merrick’s childhood in Leicester. As he grows up his dad chastises him, telling him people hate difference. In ‘a world of sameness’ where machines don’t allow for any irregularities, Merrick doesn’t fit society’s mould. There’s a pleasing descriptive poetry to Wight’s text. In one early scene Merrick’s mother, who dies whilst he’s still young, remembers a circus that came to town. Reminiscing over the fear and sorrow she felt seeing an elephant for the first time, its liquid eye on its mountain of a body, there’s a pathos in how she foreshadows what becomes of her son.

After being kicked out of the workhouses, Merrick winds up in travelling circuses before being robbed by his manager. As Merrick, Zak Ford-Williams gives a physical and delicate performance. It’s a revelatory piece of casting (by casting director Christopher Worrall), helping to illuminate the play’s themes and helps to strip the story of its images of grotesqueness that have previously been valorised. The rest of the ensemble cast also give strong performances. Annabelle Davis (in her professional stage debut) plays a multitude of characters from impoverished workers to circus barkers. And Nadia Nadarajah is excellent as the nurse who later befriends Merrick.

The second act focuses on Merrick’s later years confined to a basement room under the care of surgeon Frederick Treves, this shift in the play marked by Kenny’s more fully realised design. But the theme of entrapment is still clear: high, murky windows and looming walls surround the stage. Treves, often credited for treating Merrick and forming a close friendship with him, doesn’t fare so well here. Indeed, many of the perceptions of Merrick have been influenced by Treves’ written accounts. But, as director Stephen Bailey points out in a programme note, these contain inaccuracies, biases and largely focus on Merrick’s physical attributes rather than the person. Treves (Tim Pritchett) treats Joseph (whom he calls John) as a medical marvel, a subject to speak about as if he’s not a real, feeling person in the room with him. A clever design touch here sees Treves’ medical examination echo the circus advertising board from the first act. One of the play’s intentions seems to be to give Merrick’s earlier years more focus to give him more of a voice, but I’m not fully convinced this is achieved. The play’s second half, set nearly wholly in the hospital, is longer than the first and Merrick struggling to speak in his later years provides a dramaturgical problem. But this shouldn’t detract from what it does achieve, namely opening up the question of who Merrick was, and reflecting on how stories are told and who gets to tell them.

Bailey was the 2022 recipient of the Royal Theatrical Support Trust’s Sir Peter Hall Directorial Award. Previously won by Nancy Medina (Two Trains Running) and Anthony Almeida (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), the prize gives emerging directors the opportunity to produce work in mid-scale regional theatres. Bailey’s production is assured: they embrace the poetry of Wright’s text, give the story space to breathe, and put confidence in their cast to draw on their own experiences. There are some ideas though, for instance giving Killian Thomas Lefevre’s narrator character an electric guitar, which don’t seem fully realised. But on the whole Bailey clearly tackles the piece with sensitivity and imagination.

The Real and Imagined History of The Elephant Man is currently playing at Nottingham Playhouse until 7th October, followed by a short tour to Blackpool’s Grand Theatre and the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry. For further information please visit

Annabelle Davis, Zak Ford-Williams and Nadia Nadarajah in The Real and Imagined History of The Elephant Man. Credit: Marc Brenner.

Thursday 21 September 2023


 Curve, Leicester

20th September, 2023

C’est la vie

Metamorphosis is perhaps just as well-known for its stage history as it is for Franz Kafka’s 1915 novella. The peculiar story of Gregor Samsa whose daily routine is interrupted when he wakes to find himself turned into a bug has long been associated with practitioners like Brecht and Artaud, making it a popular text for students. Steven Berkoff’s landmark adaptation in 1969 has cast a long shadow over the piece – even I studied it at A Level 40 years later. Thankfully, Frantic Assembly (in a co-production with Curve, Theatre Royal Plymouth, MAST Mayflower Studios and Lyric Hammersmith Theatre) have transformed the piece for a new generation in an adaptation by the poet and playwright Lemn Sissay. In typical Frantic Assembly style, Scott Graham fuses movement, language, lighting and sound in a startling production which makes the familiar strange and the strange familiar.

‘My name’s Mr Samsa and I love fabric’, our protagonist beams as he wakes up each day. A slave to the drudgery of his work routine, it takes all of Gregor’s strength to summon the energy to drag himself to work each morning. But still, he extends a hand and beams ‘My name’s Mr Samsa and I love fabric’. We see this repeated several times, each morning slightly more difficult than the last. The toil of Gregor’s life working to pay off the debt is made clear. It’s a funny line, befitting of a strange play. After hearing it so many times, it prompts us to think how his routine and job are so closely and depressingly interwoven with his identity. Each time we see this play out, we notice something new each time. His slow transformation has started into something more bug-like (although, cleverly, this is never explicit). His rehearsed handshakes (part of his daily performance as an important businessman) start to become more tense, his head movements twitchier, his limbs less reliable. Soon enough he’s crawling on the floor in search of his briefcase. ‘Fabric’, he mumbles as he picks it up, his work so ingrained on his mind. Felipe Pacheco gives an incredibly physical performance filled with detailed idiosyncrasies as Gregor: every muscle from the tips of his fingers to his toes are engaged. His voice work is also notable: the epitome of stifled, British optimism morphing into more animalistic cries as his desperation intensifies.

At first, his metamorphosis is something he resists and is able to hide. His family (Troy Glasgow and Louise Mai Newberry) are incredibly proud of his big business deals, initially unaware of what’s going on until the Chief Clerk (a commanding Joe Layton) arrives. A slavedriver and blind to what’s going on, the Chief Clerk issues preposterous unsympathetic proclamations like ‘You were a good person and now this disrespectful display’. When he bursts into room to discover Gregor, his total lack of empathy leads him to grabbing the nearest chair to swat him. I thought it was a nice touch that the stripes on his pinstripe suit are horizontal just to emphasise his ridiculousness (the costumes are by Becky Gunstone). Despite the extremes of the story, Sissay has a remarkable ability to make us reflect on our own world. So succumbed to his misery, Gregor resigns to the fact that he ‘will wake with a natural tiredness… that is the nature of mornings’. But what’s striking is that all this seems normal. Sissay gives us a wake-up call to the Kafkaesque nightmare to which we can easily succumb. It provides a commentary on an overworked, cruel society. But as Gregor loses his sense of self behind his bedroom door, I also found it to be a striking exploration on mental health crises. The play reaches even more profound heights in the second act as the Lodger (also Layton) ponders society’s greed. In any other situation, ‘detached is to be unmoored or unhinged’. But a ‘detached home is the pinnacle of success’.

The play (and in particular Sissay’s version) has a timeless quality to it. The setting is possibly 1950s London, but such is the universal nature of the themes there’s no clear specificity of time or place. It could easily be now. Jon Bausor’s set design is deceptive. What at first seems a well lived-in bedroom, imposing and solid as you walk in the auditorium, is not to be trusted. The bed can make figures appear and disappear; the walls are cloth which gives them movements as if the room itself is breathing; the coving is an opportunity for Gregor to cling on; the light and ceiling rose is used as a swing. The ceiling itself is stained around the edges, perhaps from time or perhaps from the ink of Ian William Galloway’s 1950s-style adverts which are projected onto them. The bedroom becomes a playground on which almost-acrobatic movement is achieved.

Whether Gregor is being attacked with chairs or is hanging upside down from the corner, Graham’s production is one of memorable images, thought-provoking ideas and Sissay’s fierce poetry. ‘Met by everyone… remembered by no one. I am done with it all’. In a system which crushes those who struggle, it’s also a timely reminder of the greater need for understanding and empathy.

Metamorphosis plays at Curve Leicester until 23rd September followed by a UK tour until 27th January. It then plays a season at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre from 2nd February, 2024. For more information please visit


Frantic Assembly's Metamorphosis. Credit: Tristram Kenton


Wednesday 16 August 2023

Heathers the Musical

 Curve, Leicester

15th August, 2023

Life could be beautiful

You can’t fault producers Bill Kenwright and Paul Taylor-Mills for what they’ve achieved with Heathers the Musical. Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s 2013 black musical comedy didn’t quite find its feet in the US. This side of the Atlantic the show, which last week announced the closure of its London production, has become a cult hit. Teenagers in the audience dress up as their favourite Heather and throw colourful scrunchies on stage at the curtain call. Based on the 1989 film, you can see why its dark humour and subversiveness appeals to a certain age. But whilst its tone aims to mix nihilism with bubble gum humour, it often strikes an odd chord.

In Heathers, the torments of high school life are emphasised to their extremes. Everyone is defined by a single characteristic or their clique: the sports jocks, the geeks and, predecessors to the Mean Girls, the Heathers, led by ‘mythical biatch’ Heather Chandler (Verity Thompson). Sporting blazers, miniskirts and croquet mallets, each one is assigned their own colour as accentuated in Ben Cracknell’s lighting. Nerdy Veronica Sawyer (Jenna Innes) lands herself a prime lunch spot with the Heathers once they discover her gift for forgery. She is subsequently torn between her distaste for her new friends, her desire to be popular and her increasing attraction to the mysterious new kid, JD (played convincingly with chilling quirk here by Jacob Fowler), that leads to jealousy, spite and eventually murder.

JD has an overprotective streak and father issues which leads him to a killing spree that propels the musical’s plot. School shootings have shockingly become a reoccurring event in America. Whilst there are plays which explore the subject matter more seriously (Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock in 2009, and Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli’s columbinus in 2005), the songs in Heathers help to keep such extremes in the realm of comedy whilst providing some insight into JD’s psychology and motivations. “Freeze Your Brain” explains how 7/11 stores have been his only mainstay in a nomadic upbringing, taking solace in the brain freeze that a Slushie brings: ‘Get lost in the pain/ Happiness comes when everything numbs’. It’s in numbers like this which the score quietly shines. While some of the ensemble numbers are a little hectic, the musical comes into its own in the quieter solo or duet set-pieces. Whether that be the dark humour in Veronica and JD ad-libbing Heather Chandler’s suicide note – ‘My problems were myriad, I was having my period’ – the pleasant simplicity of "Seventeen", or Heather McNamara’s moment of soulbearing in "Lifeboat".

Although the performance we saw was the 200th of the current UK tour, one of the challenges of touring is a new venue each week. It may be that the production is still settling into this week’s Westerburg High but, at this performance, Dan Samson’s sound design didn’t fare too well. Mics were occasionally turned up late and vocals were often drowned out by a fuzzy-sounding band which sounded like they were playing in a different room. What is an enjoyable show would have been more enjoyable had we been able to hear the lyrics a little more clearly.

With the London run closing next month, I’m confident Heathers will continue to find an audience. It’s a fun musical which doesn’t take its acerbic undercurrents too seriously and quite clearly speaks to a new generation of theatregoers which, ultimately, is something to celebrate.

Heathers the Musical plays at Curve, Leicester until 19th August and continues to tour until 4th November. The London production is currently playing at The Other Palace until 3rd September. For more information, please visit

Jenna Innes and Jacob Fowler in Heather the Musical. Credit: Pamela Raith