(seen at the afternoon performance on 6th November 2021).
The vast New Wimbledon Theatre stage is an ideal testing ground for demonstrating whether a cult hit show can scale up to fill a major house. In this case, the answer is an emphatic yes.
The Murphy and O’Keefe score delivered by Phil Cornwell and a lively sextet in the orchestra pit bounces cheekily off even the distant upper circle walls. A relaxed cast catch the rebounds and fling them out again to the delight of the mostly young audience – except one guy called “Steve” on the front row, perhaps (in-joke).
And so the tale unfolds. For those who don’t already know it, we meet 17 year old Veronica Sawyer (Rebecca Wickes). Unpopular kid trying to make it through the final years of school with even more unpopular friend Martha Dunnstock (Mhairi Angus, who handles her act two solo with panache).
A chance encounter with the trio of Heathers who rule the lives of all attending Westerburg High advances Sawyer’s chances... if she is prepared to dump her principles. And so the struggle begins.
Into the mix is added new classmate Jason “J.D” Dean (Simon Gordon). Veronica’s infatuation is the point at which the show takes a sharp left turn from “High School Musical” to “Carrie,” but always with its tongue firmly in cheek.
The performances are universally strong. Wickes plays Sawyer with a sweet purity that remains uncorrupted even as the body count rises. Less sassy than other incarnations, her take is more thoughtful if perhaps less commanding in the final scenes where a little more grit is perhaps required.
Gordon cuts a deliciously sinister figure in a long coat, always cool, growing in menace and making even his tribute to “7-Eleven” sound like a veiled threat.
As boss Heather Chandler, Daisy Twells takes hilariously the stage by storm. Standing in for the absent Maddison Firth, the show’s resident Dance Captain combines hysterical facial expressions with sharp dance moves to elicit some sympathy for the usually unrelenting brat.
Neat work too from Sam Stones, Kurt Kansley, Callum Connolly and Liam Doyle as fathers and sons unwittingly furthering the cause of equality.
Played out on a large David Shields set, Ben Cracknell’s lighting design is executed to perfection on the road by the team of Harrison Routledge, Chloe Boucher and Tom Youngs. A vital component in a show which defines characters using primary colours, their skills deserve the recognition.
If during the afternoon there is occasionally a slight lack of punch in the delivery, it may be down to the end of run blues. No matter. The teenage fans in the audience loved it.
Those older – monkey included – whose time was that of the show, were simply relieved their own high schools were not quite as deadly... provided you stayed away from the toilets during lunch break.
Worth catching on the rest of the tour or when it returns to the West End.
Photo credit: Pamela Raith. Used by kind permission of the New Wimbledon Theatre.