By Milan Perera, Second Year English
It is the most subversive of all campus-themed musicals and yet perhaps the most candid portrayal of the anxieties, insecurities and pent-up emotions amongst young people within the high school system. It has received cult status for its unfiltered depiction of ‘mean girls’ and ‘bully boys’ who seem to have become style icons with slick dress sense and fine looks. It also demonstrates what is essentially wrong with cafeteria politics and playground power dynamics.
After enjoying an annus mirabilis of sold out shows with raving reviews, Music Theatre Bristol (MTB) took their curtain call for the year with a spectacular production of ‘Heathers’ in the tradition of a ’48 hour’ format. It is perhaps the most challenging production of all due to its sheer intensity. The musical they are to perform on Sunday evening was only revealed to the cast on Friday evening to be learnt and rehearsed in such short pace of time during the year-end exam period! But MTB took up the challenge with unruffled ease and provided a show-stopping theatre spectacle to the sold out audience at the Winston Theatre.
The conductor, Madeleine Warren, gave a downbeat which struck a spark, electrifying the packed Winston Theatre. The well-oiled juggernaut MTB orchestra responded with elan. Heathers as a musical is graced with memorable numbers with hummable melodies. The cast and the musicians rose up to the challenge by providing a burnished sheen to each musical number displaying their unparalleled skills.
The story is set in the fictional school of Westerburg High, a high society clique known as the ‘Heathers’ (played by Mia Rudden, Sarah Joseph and Grace Shropshire) rules the roost. The ‘average’ student is either bowled over by their sophisticated demeanour or repulsed by their hubris. The story follows the lethal adventures of the only non-Heather of the clique and the narrator, Veronica Sawyer (Abi Wander), and the new boy in town, Jason "J.D." Dean (Louis Butler), as they take their revenge on the bullies of Westerburg High.
Rudden, Joseph and Shropshire slipped into the shoes of Chandler, McNamara and Duke, neatly capturing the ‘super bitch complex’ of the three Heathers. They strutted around the stage giving darting looks and cutting searing poses. They snapped at the smallest irritation with verbal outbursts of venom and sarcasm. The casting of Mia Rudden as Chandler was a triumph as she effortlessly portrayed the most feared leader of the Heathers. ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’ has been the motto of Veronica when she pleaded with the Heathers to be included in the infamous clique. After initial mirth and fair share of condescension Veronica is allowed to sit with them in the cafeteria and be their dogsbody.
Nathan Langford and Finley Carry-Howe played the obnoxious quarterbacks Ram and Kurt with flourish. They were every inch as annoying as they could be. The temperature of the theatre was shot through the roof when their ‘ghosts’ appeared in Diesel trunks giving smouldering looks.
Trinity Taylor who played one of the cheerleaders with her jaw-dropping splits, twirls and jumps had the audience spellbound. The persona of the disingenuous counsellor Fleming was perfectly captured by Jasmine Sakpoba. Rather than looking into the suicides of the students she would rather enjoy the limelight of the TV. The quasi-concern and crocodile tears of the seemingly troubled student counsellor was portrayed with poise by Sakpoba.
In this pervasive atmosphere of teenage angst, the helpless parents seem to be the ultimate victims. The casting of fathers Ram and Kurt, by Josh Simango and Wilfred Kemsely, was flawless as they rendered the conflicting emotions running through the perturbed dads. Veronica’s parents were played with finesse by Nieve Fay and Callum Thorne as they excelled in channelling the anxieties of concern.
Louis Butler’s portrayal of the devastatingly charming sociopath who intends nothing but death and destruction has been a revelation. He managed to achieve the fine equilibrium without the slightest whiff of kitsch. The duet of Butler and Wander, ‘Seventeen’, had an air of beguiling serenity as the vocal harmonies of Butler and Wander blended beautifully like milk and honey.
Abi Wander in the titular role was magnificent as she displayed her unmatched skills as a consummate music theatre performer with panache and finesse as required. She flooded the Winston Theatre with a silvery stream of vocals as luxuriating as the sunshine of a summer’s day. In her signature number, ‘Dead Girl Walking’ her searing vocals were matched by her thespian skills as she was seen making passionate love to JD. The final cadence of the song brought a wave of laughter to the enthralled audience as she sang ‘Yeah!, yeah!, yeah!’ with a finely executed staccato simulating the events unfolding on the stage.
Ava Hincks shone as Martha, especially in her heartfelt rendition of ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’ which was a bittersweet reflection of her love for Ram who now lies dead. She tried to capture the sweet dreams she had of her and Ram flying into the sunset.
Sam Sayan’s direction was mercurial and jarringly wholesome. Sayan was ably assisted in this creative venture by Nell Cox, Evie O’Brien and Peter Shield. The production hit new heights with its dazzling array of costumes and dynamic performances. There was carefully orchestrated busyness and chaos on the set with hipsters, geeks, goths, quarterbacks, cheerleaders and ghosts in underpants. The choreography devised by Marine Saint was sassy, sensational and lustrous, brimming with high octane energy.
The raucous standing ovation which went for 10 solid minutes punctuated with loud cheers and ‘bravos’ was a hallmark of a thoroughly entertained audience. Understandably the outgoing President, Nieve Fay was beaming with pride as the bumper year was brought to a satisfying end. Speaking exclusively to Epigram, Fay pointed out that, ‘It's been an absolute honour to be president of such a talented group of people who have been extremely generous giving up their time and hard effort to put on productions throughout the year. I'm so proud of what we have achieved this year and so thankful to everyone involved in MTB, it wouldn't have been possible without these remarkable individuals.’
Final year student, Harry Clements who played the titular role in the spring production of ‘Company’ also spoke to Epigram trying to sum up his time at the MTB, ‘It has been a challenge at times to commit yourself fully to something like MTB with an array of deadlines and assignments always hanging over your head. But I loved every minute of it. You love being a part of something like this. I’m going to miss it’, said with a glint in his eye!
Featured Image: Milan Perera / Epigram
What was your theatre highlight of this term?