By Hope Talbot, Arts Writer
Launching into Bristol’s Hippodrome with croquet mallets and squeaky clean American accents, the cult film-turned-musical Heathers has landed. Kicking off its opening night in a smokey, sexy and sweary parade of teen angst and high school drama.
Based on the delightfully kitschy, 80s classic of the same name, Heathers sees social outcasts Veronica (Rebecca Wickes) and JD (Simon Gordon) plot to kill the popular bullies of Westerberg High.
All played out with a cartoonish nastiness, as well as a raised eyebrow and a side glance thrown in for good measure, audiences delight in a revenge plot that ends up going very wrong. With classically corny lines such as ‘well, fu*k me gently with a chainsaw!’ and ‘have you had a brain tumour for breakfast?’ Heathers is anything but typical in its approach to the American high school drama.
Almost always basked in smoke, the Bill Kenwright Theatre company makes the most of the musical cliche by constantly drowning actors with a smoke machine. This all pays off when innovative lighting and choreography is put into action, as sequinned jackets and well-placed dance numbers create the gothic camp elements needed for numbers like ‘Shine a Light.’
Naturally, Heathers is a musical that has been played out multiple times and in multiple formats - that is, in itself, the very nature of musicals. What surprised me about this production is the poignancy and nuance with which side characters and overlooked storylines were brought into focus.
While main characters Heather Chandler (Maddison Firth) and Veronica Sawyer (Rebecca Wickes) were played with ample theatric effect, it was the vocal abilities of the much-mocked Martha Dunnstock (Mhairi Angus) and the comedic timings of Kurt and Ram (Liam Doyle and Rory Phelan) that stole the show.
While winks and raised eyebrows help Heathers evade much of the more serious considerations surrounding a musical filled with suicide and school shootings, there is still a quiet tension underplaying this 80s classic brought into the modern-day. Much of these more serious considerations are hinted at, but only ever briefly, with previous songs from the original musical, such as ‘Blue Balls’, taken out to accommodate a world unwilling to accept allusions to sexual assault on the same terms as 1980s America.
It’s numbers like ‘My Dead Gay Son’ that really show how the reproductions of Heathers have acted as a timescale for social progress. In a song dedicated to acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ+ identities, the audience of the Bristol Hippodrome were audibly joyous, relishing in the queerness and campness of the Heathers world, in a way previously unseen during its first inception in the 80s.
Heathers at the Bristol Hippodrome is a perfect musical to return to, aptly playing into the original film’s central messages of love, acceptance and staying true to yourself, in a time when these messages are needed most.
Featured Image: Pamela Raith
Will you be heading out to see Heathers in Bristol this term?