Heathers is a hit musical adapted from the 1988 film of the same name. Set one year one in 1989, we follow the story of Veronica Sawyer, a ‘damaged’ high-school girl, who decides to adapt herself to fit into a social group called Heathers. This group is considered the highest and the best within the social hierarchy at Westerberg High School and consists of three girls called, (you guessed it), ‘Heather’.
The show toured the US and Australia before coming to London. Originally it was a workshop and trial at The Other Palace, but because of the sold-out success, it moved to the Theatre Royal Haymarket.
Just seconds away from Trafalgar Square, I had the luxury of going to see this beautifully structured musical just as the sun was going down, making London look even more extraordinary. The whole experience was enhanced by the theatre needing nothing less than the royal furnishings and homely fan mail posted around the place. Most shows are now creating an experience as you walk in, which is fantastic for setting up the show and transporting you to the fictional world. This is usually done through lights, posters, hashtags and mirrors (take School of Rock as an example). However, this show only needed to rely on the simple appreciation given by its fans in the form of drawings, photos and merchandise.
A seemingly honest play about social constructs and a typical high school setting was quickly deconstructed and started to project far stronger themes and content. With glimpses of guns, and maybe a history of having seen the film, one could predict the emotional turmoil I went through. However, nothing could have prepared me for how hard-hitting the show actually was. I personally had not viewed anything before watching it, and rightfully so. It was incredibly hard to find clips or read up on the twists of the show, making the revelations throughout the scenes highly engaging. I’ve heard it diverges strongly from the ’80s film, so seeing the film first would not spoil the musical because it relies on its new approach to the characterisation rather than the general plot.
The whole show’s aesthetic kept the ’80s style while still relating to current issues and conflicts now. It sets you up with these expectations, a sort of Mean Girls storyline and Bring it On! musical style. However I was pleasantly surprised when I was hit with foul language, rock elements and poetry within its lyrics. It’s worth noting that they’ve adapted some songs and added new ones, but this musical is known for its general ability to keep you hooked throughout. Since seeing the show, I’ve had the songs on repeat and have become devoted to the hidden innuendos and multiple meanings they paint for me. They’re certainly the strongest part of the show, carried well by the talented cast. In particular, Carrie Hope Fletcher and Jamie Muscato, (Veronica and JD), brought something more than the alluring music. It already demanded well-acted characters and they were strongly portrayed, yet these two performers brought more to the music. By belting their hearts out and acting with overwhelming emotion, they made this musical extremely powerful. This is most apparent in particular scenes such as, no spoilers, the ‘lustful’ scene and a couple more where anger coincided with hurt and left me close to tears.
The dialogue was sometimes predictable, but incredibly sassy. It was a good representation of teenage dialogue and offered the right amount of humour while still telling the story. Keeping in mind that it’s set in America, I still felt slightly bombarded by the over-exaggeration of tone and actions, making the musical bold, but I also understood it was necessary to communicate the clichés and the story. The criticism here is that sometimes I wanted to be completely immersed in the story and the humour would take me away from that, but it’s clear that that was writer Kevin Murphy’s intention. I’m not sure if it works for audience engagement but for storytelling, I can see why it was done that way. This represents the pace of the whole show. Although it was trying to tell a long story, I felt that some parts were rushed with comedy in weird places, whereas I would have loved to have seen some scenes taken slower.
The audience was primarily young and, in this case, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. The messages and themes are directed at young adults, and although it would be extremely enjoyable for all ages, I’d really suggest this show to anyone in education or just out of it. One of the most engaging things about this musical was the ability to connect with it.
As for the semiotics of the show, all of it was rather simple. After moving to a bigger stage, I would have assumed they’d have big funds for the production. I found the entire design rather simple and correlated to that of an amateur show. However, this doesn’t take away from the quality of the show at all. It really didn’t need these big theatrics or special effects, because the illusion was shown through the characters. There were some extremely clever moments, like playing around with primary colours to match the personalities or the use of lighting and fog to completely transport you to an eerie cemetery or lake. The sound quality was fantastic, although loud. Just the set, at least for me, was very basic and overlooked. I do want to credit some effects though, such as the use of gun shots and the light-up books, because it was the small features like these that made the show so memorable.
I would highly recommend this show, but I can also appreciate it is for a very particular crowd. It strays from the normal musical style with heavy themes and a new musical approach, but keeps the clichés required to tell the story. The show deserves immense praise and I can’t wait to see it again soon.
If it appeals to you, TodayTix do a lottery for front row seats at £25 and normally provide a subsidised ticket price if you weren’t lucky enough to win them. Otherwise, tickets start at £25 and go up from there. During my performance viewing, we were upgraded for free, so the same may happen to you. If you want to travel from campus, I’d recommend getting the 72 to Hammersmith and then go northbound on the Piccadilly Line to Piccadilly Circus and walk the final 5 minutes. A round trip will cost just under £8.