Heathers- the Musical, Bristol Hippodrome

FOR most of the time in which it was responsible for issuing a certificate for a film to be shown to the public, The British Board of Film Censors would, after seeing the film, place it in one of three categories, U, which could be seen by anyone regardless of age unaccompanied, A,  which anyone aged 12 or over could see if accompanied by an adult, and X, which was only on view for those 18 or over.

There were others that received a certificate, but only to be shown in a film club to adults only. Heathers – the Musical would defiantly at best have been sent out on general release with an X certificate.

This story of Veronica Sawyer’s progress through her new 1980s  High School contains bullying, sexual assault, homosexuality, suicide, school violence, and murder. All of which is underlined by a Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s pounding rock score.

It is also very funny, a true black comedy which is played to the hilt with stylised acting which often deliberately steers dangerously close to caricature. Knowing however that there are moments of intense drama which have to be shown just as clearly as the comedy, director Andy Fickman skilfully steered the production though those choppy waters, keeping a good balance between comedy and drama.

A poorer balance was kept between the singers and the band, which on too many occasions dominated the vocals to such an extent that we lost the all-important lyrics which were taking the story on dramatically and also some excellent comedy lines. You can take your pick who you want to blame for this, the sound designer and team, the singers for poor diction, or both. But don’t blame MD Phil Cornwell and his band, whose volume is, like the singers nowadays, completely in the hands of the sound team.

Leading a strong cast were Miss Personality Plus Rebecca Wickes as Veronica Sawyer, the new girl at High School determined to join the elite of the clan, and Simon Gordon as Jason JD Dean, as smooth a romantic murdering psychopath as you’re liable to meet in many a long year. Treading on eggshells, they keep the balance between reality and the black comedy, in between belting out some romantic dramatic numbers like a modern day edition of Jeanette Macdonald and Nelson Eddy.

Head of the three Heathers, Chandler, Duke, and McNamara, was Maddison Firth as the bullying Heather Chandler, giving as fine lesson on how to send yourself up, when alive and then as a ghost, to maximum effect by going to the limit … but never too far. When she and her faithful followers, Merryl Ansah (Duke)}, and Lizzy Parker (McNamara) burst into song and dance nothing was held back. This was playing to 100% capacity.

In contrast came Mhairi Angus just as effective with an understated portrait – in a deliberate sea of overplaying – of the honest, lonely, constantly put upon Martha Dunnstock.

As it has done both on screen and stage, this production has its entrenched supporters who believe that it accurately shows the problems facing teenagers at school and early adult life, and by displaying them in public you help them and the next generation to solve them, and others who believe that in this comedy-drama mixture you are glorifying the very things you want to stamp out.

The majority vote on this occasion certainly went in favour of bringing everything out into the open no matter how violent and ugly, and then making fun of it. The minority who could not accept this idea went off shaking their heads, some even suggesting that the show had gone too far down this harsh violent route.
Whatever camp you are in there was no denying that this fast moving, high octane, rock musical,  which takes no prisoners en-route, never lets you rest for a minute,  pounding you with its mixture of drama, comedy and powerful rhythms from curtain up to the final note.


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