No, this musical is not set amid the gorse-strewn banks and braes of Bonny Scotland. It is set in an American high school, an establishment which would make an inner city comprehensive over here look like a finishing school for débutantes. The Heathers in question are not varieties of the genus Calluna vulgaris, such as might be proffered by a gipsy woman if you cross her palm with silver. And as it turns out, they are certainly not lucky. They are in fact three girls all called Heather, and an unpleasant bunch they are. Not that the rest of the pupils at Westerberg are in any way pleasant. The only one who is remotely likeable is the fat girl who gets bullied.
“Rape! Murder!! It’s just a kiss away.” That is what Mick Jagger sang in Gimme Shelter, and that is the message I took away from the show. Various other felonies are committed, but exactly what is going on I found hard to fathom. Unusually, the programme for the show available at the theatre, while displaying the customary photographs of the cast and extensive CVs of the ‘Creatives’, say nothing at all about the musical itself, its origin or its plot. Only afterwards did I learn from Wikipedia that it began life as a movie in 1989, that it sold out in New York when first adapted for the stage, winning the Best New Musical award from WhatsOnStage, and that it has been wildly popular ever since. It certainly was in Wimbledon last night, when a packed house resounded with whoops and roars of applause. The audience must have been following the plot better than me, despite the lyrics of the songs being often drowned out by the loudness of the band. It is, so I read, a “black comedy”, and there is certainly a lot of blackness, what with poisoning, shooting, bullying, forging and enough pride, envy, malice and other deadly sins to consign the characters to a place of eternal wailing and gnashing of teeth. But comedy? It is certainly preposterous. My funny bone remained untickled, however.
I must admit, it wasn’t all bad. Two very impressive scenes stand out. One is where, in the middle of frenetic action, the cast suddenly stop and remain fixed in their position, forming a dreamlike tableau vivant which they maintain for several minutes. The other is when Heather Duke’s green outfit magically turns scarlet, the colour of the now deceased Heather Chandler’s outfit, as this Heather takes over as head honcho. The audience found an awful lot more than this to like, however. I was in a minority of one.