Theatre Review | Heathers: The Musical, Theatre Royal, Nottingham
"Heathers: The Musical", UK Tour
September 1st 1989. Wait, not quite.
September 2 2023
This week, the girls and I took a long-awaited trip to watch “Heathers: The Musical” at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham. (We booked these tickets all the way back in February.) It was a second viewing for myself and Freya, but the first time for Poppy. (And yes, I did get some rather funny looks from fellow audience members for taking my 9 year old to see a show with some seriously adult themes, but we will touch on that more later.
Based on the 80’s cult classic film of the same name, “Heathers” is a dark and edgy comedy which centres around Veronica Sawyer, a teenager struggling to survive the perils of high school. Veronica becomes entangled with a powerful clique of “mean girls”, the Heathers, and with the help of Veronica’s new boyfriend JD, things start to take a dark turn. Things quickly spiral out of control and Veronica is left trying to pick up the pieces. Basically it’s the plot of Grease, if Sandy started killing off the Pink Ladies….
For this performance, the role of Veronica was played by Eleanor Walsh. Veronica is a BIG part. She’s in almost every scene, she’s the emotional centre of the show and she has some SERIOUSLY powerful songs. This is not a part for the timid or faint-hearted and Eleanor was clearly neither of those things.
She threw herself into the role from the very beginning. Eleanor’s Veronica started off naive and innocent, so it was easy for the audience to understand how she could easily be swept away by the excitement offered by the Heathers and JD. As the show progressed, Eleanor beautifully captured Veronica’s growing strength and confidence. It was a masterclass in character development.
Eleanor also handled those powerful songs with ease and confidence, displaying an incredibly strong vocal quality. Combined with her impressive comedic timing, this was an all-round impressive leading performance.
If you have been around Nottingham theatre over the past few years, then you may have already heard the name Jacob Fowler. Jacob is a home-grown talent who never fails to impress with his stunning vocal performances, so I was really excited to finally get to see his version of the tortured anti-hero, JD.
As anticipated, Jacob blew the audience away with his beautiful renditions of “Freeze Your Brain” and “Seventeen”, as well as the slightly more unhinged “Meant To Be Yours”. Jacob was not afraid to lean into JD’s darker nature, giving him a manic edge but also displaying an undercurrent of vulnerability. He was a menacing presence from the moment he stepped on stage, with just enough toxic charisma to make it easy to believe Veronica would fall for the bad boy.
One of my favourite things about seeing multiple versions of “Heathers” is how each cast brings something new and different to these familiar roles. The iconic Heathers in this production were particularly vicious, which made them even more enjoyable to watch.
Verity Thompson gave my personal favourite performance as Heather Chandler, the leader of the group. Verity’s Heather C oozed malice from beginning to end while also serving some of the show’s funniest and silliest moments. She clearly knew how to perfectly deliver each line for maximum effect. Another performer with serious vocal skill, I looked forward to every time she came on stage as I knew we were going to be in for a treat!
Elise Zavou played Heather Duke, who grows tired of being under Heather C’s reign. You could really feel her anger build throughout the show, which explodes into her feisty and energetic rendition of “Never Shut Up Again”. Definitely one of the highlights of the show.
Heather McNamara is usually the weaker of the three Heathers, but Billie Bowman’s portrayal was just as cruel and nasty as the others. Billie’s Heather Mac wasn’t just a timid sheep - she was one of the ringleaders. It was a different portrayal to those I’ve seen before and it really worked. It also made more of a contrast when she showed her vulnerable side in the heart-breaking “Lifeboat”.
Kingsley Morton was perfect as Veronica’s best friend, Martha Dunnstock. Martha is a bit of a strange role, as she starts off relatively quiet, fading into the background against all of the stronger characters. Then, halfway through Act 2, Martha has a break-out moment where she suddenly takes centre-stage and captures the audience’s attention.
Kingsley absolutely seized that moment and ran with it, giving a moving and mesmerising rendition of “Kindergarten Boyfriend”. And wow, can she sing! Kingsley left not a dry eye in the house but still managed to inject moments of dry humour into the song. Flawless!
Maeve Byrne gave a powerhouse of a performance as the free-loving teacher, Ms. Fleming (along with the role of Veronica’s mother). She stole the show in her dazzling number “Shine A Light”, mixing some incredibly impressive vocals with a spot of ad-libbing and audience participation.
Alex Woodward and Morgan Jackson were both equally brilliant as the dumb jocks Kurt Kelly and Ram Sweeney respectively. They provided heaps of comic relief as well as some of the catchiest tunes in the show with “Big Fun'' and “You’re Welcome”. It is also a testament to how well they played these roles that we still felt really sorry for them, even after all the awful things they’ve done.
Connor McFarlane and Jay Brice brought the house down at the start of Act 2 with the hilarious and show-stopping “My Dead Gay Son” as Ram and Kurt’s Dads. They also each played a number of other roles in the show and I was really impressed at how they managed to bring something different to each role.
Rounding off the cast perfectly was the Ensemble featuring Markus Sodergren, Tom Dickserson, Liam Dean, Summer Priest, Eliza Bowden and Lizzie Emery. The ensemble filled the stage with energy in the large-scale musical numbers while also providing background characters and general ambience. They executed the choreography flawlessly and created a truly beautiful sound full of stunning harmonies. There was so much talent on this stage that is often hard to know where to look.
What I love about “Heathers: The Musical” is that even with it’s dark themes including bullying, suicide and sexual assault (check those trigger warnings, folks), it still manages to end on an oddly uplifting and hopeful note. By the time the finale rolls around, the audience are up on their feet, completely caught up in the enthusiasm and enjoyment of the show.
It’s easy to see why this show has such a hardcore fan base. Even though I’ve now seen it live twice, I have no doubt that I will be booking again if it ever comes back to Nottingham.
As I mentioned at the start, this show is definitely not suitable for most children, however I was confident that both of my girls could cope with the themes in this show. They both absolutely loved the whole thing and I’m pretty sure we have Heathers fans for life. (Especially as they got to meet some of the cast at the end of the show.)
Heathers: The Musical is currently on tour around the UK at a variety of venues through to November 2023. Full details can be found on the website.