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Review: Heathers (New Wimbledon Theatre)

Review by Daz Gale


You may be familiar with the story of Heathers as it has proven to be the show that just won’t stay dead. Having enjoyed around seventeen runs in London, it finally closed its doors at The Other Palace last month but makes a return visit to London where it wraps up its current UK tour, meaning we will be left with a world without Heathers this time next week. Having seen it multiple times in each of its West End runs, I ventured into Wimbledon to see how it fares on tour and if the show still has the same panache and energy it had when it first made its London debut. Looking at this show from that angle, how could I say no?

Based on the 1989 movie, the musical adaptation of Heathers began life in 2009, having a limited run off-Broadway in 2014. It made its London debut in 2018 and has gone on to prove unstoppable since where it has had two West End runs, two off-West End runs and two UK tours. It tells the story of the students at Westerberg High centering around Veronica Sawyer whose new friendship with the Heathers may be destined to be short-lived. As she falls for new student JD, their killer love is tested to the limits. Basically, think Mean Girls with murder and you get the idea.

Written by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe, Heathers boasts a strong script full of witty one-liners and no shortage of comic moments which effortlessly co-exist alongside the more sinister and disturbing aspects of the story. The one consistency in the differing tones is the quality of the story which remains gripping throughout, never taking its foot off the gas for even a second. Heathers is the rarest of shows in that it keeps getting better as it progresses. Through this visit and each of my previous trips, I find that from the moment the twist happens in the middle of act one, revealing the true intent of the story, the story keeps elevating from then. This is partly down to the incredible musical lyrics which get bigger and better throughout.

The songbook found in Heathers has taken on a life of its own in recent years, with numbers including ‘Candy Store’, ‘Dead Girl Walking’ and ‘Seventeen’ staples in the musical theatre world. It is the shows biggest numbers in act two which really set an already high bar to impossible levels. Act two opener ‘My Dead Gay Son’ seems unbeatable in its joy against a dark subject until it is swiftly followed with the ingeniously staged ‘Shine A Light’ complete with its now infamous audience interaction. The shows undoubted biggest number comes from one that was added in towards the end of the first London run though it feels hard to imagine the show without the perfection that is ‘I Say No’ – surely one of the greatest musical theatre songs in recent years. With infectious melodies and clever lyrics, it is clear to see why these songs have gone on to be so loved both on their own merit and as part of the bigger picture.

If the material in Heathers manages to stand up on its own two feet, the current touring cast bring something new to it, each managing to put their own spin on iconic roles fans will associate with the performers who have come before them. Stepping in to Veronica Sawyer’s blue blazer is Jenna Innes who leads the cast marvellously with a playful approach to the character. Demonstrating outstanding vocals, particularly on showstopper ‘I Say No’ and versatile choices in her acting, she delivers a consistently phenomenal performance. Jacob Fowler is equally impressive in his turn as Jason ‘J.D.’ Dean. His take on the sinister character sees him charm at the beginning before the true depths of his nature are exposed, resulting in some creepy choices that captivate throughout. Jacob’s embodiment of the character leaves a lasting impression, culminating in a brilliant example of acting through song in a knockout performance of ‘Meant To Be Yours’.

Heathers would be nothing without… well, the Heathers, and luckily there are a trio of fantastic performers on hand in this production. Verity Thompson takes on Heather Chandler in a fabulous portrayal which brought out the brashness of the character but allowed room for the complexities that emerge. Billie Bowman delights as Heather McNamara carefully treading the balance between boldness and vulnerability in her big solo number ‘Lifeboat’. The trio are completed by Elise Zavou who gives a thrilling take on Heather Duke with some ballsy choices, fleshing out a character who begins in the background before coming front and centre. However, her big solo number ‘Never Shut Up Again’ doesn’t land with the impact it usually would, for one reason or another.

Alex Woodward and Morgan Jackson are a joy to watch as Kurt and Ram, while Katie Paine is a standout in her turn as Ms. Fleming, absolutely nailing her big moment in ‘Shine A Light’. A standout amongst the all fabulously talented cast is Kingsley Morton in her beautiful turn as Veronica’s best friend and social outcast Martha Dunnstock. Sensitively portraying the innocent yet tortured character, she gives a masterclass performance, with her solo number ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’ providing the most tender and moving moment of the show.

Andy Fickman’s direction takes all of the elements of Heathers, strong and successful in their own right, and blends them together to create a cohesive piece of theatre that remains thrilling to watch no matter how many times you have seen the show or how many different venues. The relative simplicity of the set, though still gloriously designed by David Shields, allows for a reliability in the production of the show, with less changes than other touring productions would necessarily need to do to accommodate its venues. Gary Lloyd’s choreography remains inspired with the dancing in ‘Candy Store’ and ‘Big Fun’ becoming iconic in their own right, while Ben Cracknell’s expert lighting design beautifully bathes the cast in their signature colours and ensures the whole show always looks very… very.

So what is the lasting appeal with Heathers? The show has struck a chord with its audience like few shows manage with their own army of Corn Nuts cosplaying and seeing the show repeatedly. As someone who has seen it on each incarnation since 2018, I see the appeal. Though the story can get pretty dark with some disturbing themes, its overall message of good trumping evil (even if it does end with a body count) has transcended beyond the stage to create its own community. In Heathers, many a musical lover has found a safe space, experiencing joy and comfort whenever they needed it.

Heathers is a show that is always reliably good. Whether it is in London or a touring production, the key elements of the show including the majority if the staging are retained, meaning it falls solely to the cast to bring a bit of variation to the show. This cast have no problem in that respect, all finding new things in their characterisations. Perhaps some are suffering from a bit of Heathers fatigue though as admittedly, though I still loved the show, it didn’t connect with me as much as it usually did. A rest for this show may be a good idea, but I’m sure it won’t be too long before we see the Westerberg classmates again. I can’t promise no more Heathers and with a show as crowd-pleasing as this, we should all be glad of that.

Heathers wraps up its UK tour at New Wimbledon Theatre om Saturday 28th October. Tickets available here

Photos by Pamela Raith



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