Written by Jamie Griffiths on August 9, 2023
08/08/2023 – Palace Theatre, Manchester by Tiffany Chevis.
Based on the 1988 cult classic film by Daniel Waters, Heathers is a coming-of-age story that pulls no punches, leaving you cringing at the memories, and dying with laughter. Centred around Westerberg High School, we follow Veronica Sawyer as she tries to navigate teen-hood just hoping to come out alive. Her survival technique is to get in with the ultimate girl-clique, the Heathers, with popularity their protection – or so they think. When she hooks up with dark misfit Jason ‘JD’ Dean, the bodycount starts to rack up as fast as the lies.
The characters feel like just a hair’s breadth beyond reality, caricatured enough for stage and yet instantly recognisable as so many ex-classmates. Alex Woodward and Morgan Jackson leave little to the imagination in their portrayal of jocks Kurt and Ram. Posturing and joking, through Fight For Me, you may spend more time watching their slow motion reactions than the actors in the spotlight, and You’re Welcome is as hilarious in its delivery as it is uncomfortable for its sentiment.
Jenna Innes plays the bold Veronica, instantly relatable from her desire to fit in to the gumption we find as we begin to discover who we really are. With effortless humour and timing, Innes goes from the daring Dead Girl Walking to the desperate Seventeen, showcasing the breadth of teen emotion with stunning vocals.
The root of the drama is JD, who Jacob Fowler takes on a journey from mysterious heartthrob to extremely disturbed felon as the story unfolds. As he clings to Veronica as the only source of positivity in his life, JD’s world continues to unravel – Freeze Your Brain and Meant to be Yours bookending his desperation with Fowler’s brooding melancholy and madness.
There is some soft relief within the frequently shocking storyline, in the form of gentle-hearted Martha Dunnstock, Veronica’s dreamy friend. Kingsley Morton gives a gem of a performance, with sensitivity and optimism that is genuine without being patronised. The showstopper number Kindergarten Boyfriend gives Morton the chance to truly prove herself, in one of the most emotive scenes of the show.
And then we have the Heathers themselves – Heather Chandler (Verity Thompson), Heather Duke (Elise Zayou), and Heather McNamara (Billie Bowman). With viper-quick retorts and stiletto-sharp stares, Thompson and Zayou both dominate as the red scrunchie takes hold; but it is Bowman’s reflective and at times heartbreaking Lifeboat that brings home an element that is relatively understated throughout – that these teens, however cruel, are nonetheless still trying to find their way in the world.
If you’re unfamiliar with the soundtrack, the sound levels may prove challenging as the heavy beat and rock guitar at times make the – often complicated and comical – lyrics hard to discern. That said, under Will Joy’s musical direction, every number is as high energy and powerful as the last with styles ranging from pop-tastic to grungy outpourings of teen angst. Combined with Gary Lloyd’s incisive choreography and David Shields’ timewarping costumes, there’s a feast for every sense.
This touring production directed by Andy Fickman is as raucous as you could hope for, with audiences noticeably hyped – whether fans of the original film or their teenagers discovering the story for the first time. Tackling difficult topics head on, Heathers wills you to never underestimate the power – and danger – of the quiet ones; you may not live to regret it.