Cruel Intentions The 90’s Musical

Reviewer's rating

Jeff Goldblum’s character in the film Jurassic Park has a line that goes…

‘Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should’.

Cruel Intentions which has just opened at The Other Palace is a screen to stage adaptation of the 1999 American teen drama of the same name, itself a modern re-telling of the 1782 French epistolary novel, Les Liaisons dangereuses, set in an American high school to the soundtrack – I hesitate to call it a score – of 1990’s pop songs and brought the quote immediately to mind.

A lot has happened in the world since 1999, and I’m not convinced that even when this dubious import first surfaced in 2015 it didn’t, even then, have the distinct whiff of ‘ick’ about it.

Still, if a show about ‘rich, horrible, entitled schoolchildren plotting the deflowering of a virgin for a bet’ is what rocks your boat, then this is quite clearly the show for you. Let me say that again. It’s a show about the sex lives of school children…

Like several other shows around at the moment it’s a show that manages to have its good points in spite of, rather than because of, the book which is just nasty, nasty, nasty and offers no emotional engagement with the audience; we become passive receivers of what’s on offer, rather than active participants in the show.

Perhaps this is because the original writer who, along with Jordan Ross and Lindsey Rosin put this entertainment together, works in film. I don’t know. All I DO know is that I didn’t care about any of the horrible protagonists.

That isn’t to say, however, that there wasn’t a lot to like about what was being presented.

The simple set works well, and the revolve MUST have been expensive as it’s used from the opening number onwards…

The mainly young cast has some stand-out members; Daniel Bravo as Sebastian looks rather like a young version of the historian Dan Snow, but is genuine ‘leading man’ stuff, or will be given better material; Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky as his step-sister has a great voice and mercurial ability to pivot from one mood to the next.

Although there are plenty of pop songs that make up this jukebox musical, they only rarely hit the mark and even more infrequently further the plot. Indeed, many of them seem to me to be second or third choices, the rights not being immediately available for the songs the devisers of this show actually wanted.

Jonathan O’Boyle’s direction is excellent, fluid, and energetic, and as paired with Gary Lloyd’s ‘Pop video’ choreography brings not only vigour, but humour and a HUGE dollop of crowd-pleasing ‘camp’ to stop the audience having to think too deeply and critically about what they’re seeing plot-wise.

The small on-stage band of four sounds excellent under Denise Crowley’s MD-ship, and with Chris Whybrow’s all-encompassing sound design hardly a word gets lost when the cast are doing their thing.

So, why only three stars?

Well on press night large sections of the invited audience were going apoplectic with enthusiasm for this show so I must admit to being something of an outlier in not finding it a hit. It’s full of energy, has a talented cast, and is a very well engineered example of commercial theatre.

But the subject matter? I thought society had moved on.