Review: But I'm A Cheerleader: The Musical (Turbine Theatre)

The Turbine Theatre in Battersea prides itself on being a safe space for new work to be developed so it feels only fitting that their first major production of the year is a brand new musical they have been involved with for years - the first fully staged production of But I'm A Cheerleader.


Based on the cult movie from 1999, the musical adaptation of But I'm A Cheerleader has been in the works for 20 years. First presented as part of MTFest in 2019, it has become the first fully commissioned musical discovered at the festival to be presented on stage. It tells the story of an American high school cheerleader whose life is turned upside down when her family and friends suspect her of being a lesbian and send her to a rehabilitation camp to set her straight. Cheery, right?



The Turbine Theatre is a small, almost secret space underneath a railway bridge in Battersea. While they have had some fantastic productions staged there in the few years it has been open, nothing has been attempted on the scale of this. A cast of 12 in such a small space seemed challenging enough, but add to that a fantastic and surprisingly grand stage, designed by David Shields - the likes of which have not been seen at this particular theatre before,, what you are left with is something incredibly special.


Written by Bill Augustin, the story is a relatively light-hearted look at what is still a serious issue. Megan and her fellow campmates have to deal with the prejudices and homophobia of those who are adamant their "lifestyle" is wrong. That may be a heavy subject but it is played solely through the eyes of the campmates and their supporters, not considering for a moment they could even be right. While the absurdity of the situation is played for laughs, it is worth remembering conversion therapy is still legal in many countries including the UK. It is a testament to the brilliance of the writing that it manages to strike the right balance between humour while not belittling the subject at hand.



The cast that have been assembled for this production are nothing short of breath-taking. Alice Croft leads the squad as Megan, showing versatility and immense star power as she battles the confusion over her identity with a real vulnerability and sensitivity. Evie Rose Lane plays fellow campmate and Megan's love interest, Graham. Absolutely sensational in the role, the pair exhibit an authenticity into their burgeoning relationship with Evie shining on showstopping number 'If That's What It Takes'.


Jodie Steele is as incredible as ever in the double role as Kimberly/Hilary - two completely different roles that she clearly is having the time of her life playing. Her accent and mannerisms as Hilary were a particular highlight with Jodie proving yet again why she is one of the best in the West End, even when she is taking more of a back seat role than you may have seen previously. Another standout is Lemuel Knights as Mike, displaying fantastic comic timing and a voice from the Gods in a performance that ensures your eyes are always on him to ensure you're not missing something he's doing.


I could go on singling out every single performer on that stage and maybe I should? Oliver Brooks, Edward Chitticks, Damon Gould, Tiffany Graves, Jodie Jacobs, Harry Singh, Aaron Teoh and Kia-Paris Walcott - all outstanding. The character development and depth of their characterisations is another example of how great the writing is. Literally every person in that cast gets some sort of journey and growth throughout the duration of the show in what feels like very natural and believable storytelling.


A great musical needs some great songs and But I'm A Cheerleader, with music from Andrew Abrams, has no shortage of them. As Dolph, Aaron Teoh gets a standout moment with 'Wrestling' while the act 1 finale 'Seeing New Colours' is a highlight. The joyous act 2 opening number 'Raise Your Flag' ensures even the coldest hearted person in that audience gets a smile on their face while Alice Croft gets a big number in the gorgeous 'Graham's Kiss'. Fabulous choreography from Alexzandra Sarmiento gives the production the grandeur it needs to accurately portray the story, while the genius use of cheers to transition between scenes is inspired.



You may have gathered from this review that I absolutely loved this show. Having never seen the movie or caught this at MTfest, I went in completely blind but was won over from the first minute. With all the different members of the LGBTQIA+ community being referenced, But I'm A Cheerleader is refreshingly inclusive. Full of heart and hilarity, this life-affirming show has an overarching important message and is everything theatre should be. This may be the first time the musical has been staged in full but rest assured it won't be the last. This musical is destined for bigger things - I wouldn't be surprised if we saw it on a West End stage before too long. Get yourself down to see it - you won't regret it!


★★★★★


But I'm A Cheerleader plays at the Turbine Theatre until April 16th. Tickets from https://www.theturbinetheatre.com/