Heathers – UK Tour

Reviewers Rating

Maybe it’s my British cynicism, or the fact that UK and US school environments are so different (despite what Netflix’s Sex Education would have Americans believe) but I just couldn’t get on board with the whole concept of ‘Heathers’.

The ‘Heathers’ are a trio of popular mean girls, all inexplicably named Heather – I guess for the sake of comedy? – (more on the lack of that later) – and they are simultaneously the envy and fear of everyone at Westerberg High, as they quite literally parade themselves around the hallways proudly sporting their piercingly fluorescent blazers.

Now, theirs is the kind of behaviour that anyone who has been to school on this side of the Atlantic would certainly agree would not be rewarded with popularity and instead be dealt with swiftly, by means of military grade piss-taking. So, with this in mind, I recognise that it’s possible I got off on the wrong foot with Heathers The Musical – which is currently performing at Wales Millennium Centre as part of its UK tour.

It starts off as a familiar story of an outcast undergoing a makeover and suddenly becoming ‘hot’ and therefore popular, with our lead Veronica (Jenna Innes) joining the ranks of the ‘Heathers’ and even getting her very own showy blazer.

The script does little to acknowledge this as a trope, nor does it make any attempts to diminish this cliché with a dose of much needed self-aware humour. Heathers – the movie from which this musical is adapted – was first released in 1988, but I’m not sure that fits as an excuse for how dated it feels.

It lacks the observational comedy of its most obvious comparator Mean Girls – (which incidentally did take into account a new generation with its own contemporary musical adaptation) and disappointingly doesn’t feel the need to acknowledge the well-trodden ground as it trods, which contributes to most of the first act playing out like an Aldi clone of a far tastier alternative brand.

So, I settled in for Veronica’s inevitable realisation that it is ‘who she is inside that matters’ and that she shouldn’t have shaken off her real friends, no matter how nerdy they are perceived to be. Similarly, I awaited the eventual revelation that the Heathers and accompanying jocks hadhidden depths’.

Which is indeed where we end up, but to be fair, via a route I had not anticipated. Enter ‘J.D’ (Jacob Fowler) – and it is here that Heathers takes an unexpected turn and actually starts to win me round.

Leads Jenna Innes and Jacob Fowler are truly excellent, with Jacob having such masterful control over his mid-register that at times his voice is so pure, it’s borderline unrealistic, like listening to live autotune. He really does have a sensational tone and clearly gives his all to his performance as the quick-witted psychopath.  Verity Thompson also perfectly inhabits the lead Heather – a character you soon find you love to hate.

Although, it has to be said – the songs are fairly forgettable, with only one stand out from where I was sitting – ‘I Say No’ – and even then, this would be filler in more superior musicals. Tonally, the comedy is a little off as well. The cast deliver lines with the clear intention they should bring the house down but find they have been betrayed by the inherently dodgy dialogue they’re tied to.

You also get the sense Heathers thinks it’s The Book of Mormon and believes it’s pushing boundaries or exposing taboos – with darkly comic numbers such as ‘My Dead Gay Son’ and ‘You’re Welcome’- but it lacks the sharp wit and sophisticated execution of irony needed to reach such heights.

It is strongest when it leans into absurdity, not so much stretching the audience’s sense of disbelief but showing a complete and chaotic disregard for it. The story takes such a surreal direction – especially for those like me who were unfamiliar with the movie – that I don’t wish to spoil the surprise here, but suffice to say, it’s bonkers. But to demonstrate the point and tease a brief example – one character meets their demise in the form of instant death by toilet duck. Quite the left turn.

All in all, this is a solid production with tight choreography and strong performances from leading cast and chorus. There is also a palpable sense of commitment by all on stage to convince the audience that we should be having as good a time as they are. Much like the Heathers trio somehow convincing the school populace that their garish attire is cool, the cast and creative team just about win us over and dodge the pitfalls in the source material to deliver an uneven, but ultimately entertaining production.