Like the 1989 movie on which it’s based, Heathers the Musical has gained an enthusiastic cult following since the UK production first opened at The Other Palace in 2018. And while that enthusiasm sometimes feels borderline inappropriate – whooping and cheering while a lonely, bullied teenage girl seemingly acts on the suicidal intentions she’s just been singing about is one uncomfortable example – it’s certainly not unjustified. Heathers is a great show, taking all the best bits of the movie and adding catchy musical numbers that quickly take up residence in your head, whether you want them to or not.
Probably best summarised as Mean Girls with murder, Heathers takes aim at the savagery of high school life through the eyes of seventeen-year-old Veronica (Rebecca Wickes), whose only goal is to make it to college in one piece. When she finds herself unexpectedly adopted by the Heathers (Maddison Firth, Merryl Ansah and Lizzy Parker), the three most popular and feared girls in school, everything seems to be falling into place. That is until she meets newcomer J.D. (Simon Gordon), who has no patience for bullies, and no hesitation about fighting back. Soon he and Veronica – much to her horror – are racking up quite the body count, covering their tracks by making each death look like a suicide.
Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s show fearlessly tackles such dark subjects as suicide, bullying, date rape, murder and homophobia, but does so with the same deft comedic touch as the movie, ultimately concluding with an upbeat (albeit slightly consequence-free) message about acceptance and friendship. As troubling as it probably should be, it’s impossible not to be swept along by the sheer exuberance of it all, particularly in the hands of such a great cast. The vocals are, without exception, spectacular, particularly from leads Rebecca Wickes and Simon Gordon, and there’s some brilliant comedy performances from Maddison Firth, Liam Doyle and Rory Phelan – even, and perhaps even more so, after their characters have been bumped off. Meanwhile the emotional heart of the show lies with Mhairi Angus as Veronica’s best friend Martha, a sweet girl who becomes the target of bullying and practical jokes but never stops being true to who she is.
Though there’s a slight change of pace in Act 2 (following a riotous opening number), the energy of Andy Fickman’s production remains high throughout, with excellent choreography by Gary Lloyd, dramatic lighting design from Ben Cracknell, and a very neat quick costume change towards the end of Act 1 which deserves its own special mention. All in all, Heathers is a super slick show that knows its target audience and, if the volume of the screams at curtain call are anything to go by, gives them exactly what they want.
Heathers is at New Wimbledon Theatre until 6th November before continuing on tour.