Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh
In 1988, I was seventeen – and so was Veronica Sawyer. “You’re right; it really blows.” Luckily for me, high school in Abergele wasn’t quite as combative as it was in Sherwood, Ohio, and I never had to murder anyone. I did love Heathers though, and not just because Winona Ryder starred in it.
Written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael Lehmann, the gloriously anarchic Heathers soon gained cult film status, so it’s no surprise that it morphed into a musical a decade or so later, nor that this stage version also has longevity. Here we are in 2023; unlike me, Veronica is still a teenager, still navigating the halls of Westerberg High, still trying to fit in.
The plot is sprawling and bonkers, the humour dark. Tired of being bullied, Veronica (Ailsa Davidson) comes up with a cunning plan: she will use her excellent forgery skills to bribe the three most popular girls at school into letting her hang around with them. In return for a fake hall pass or two, Heathers Duke, McNamara, and Chandler (Vivian Panka, Teleri Hughes and Maddison Firth) give Veronica a makeover and the status she craves. And sure, she feels bad about turning her back on her best pal, Martha (Mhairi Angus), but it’s a matter of survival, right?
Except not everyone survives. Heather Chandler’s cruelty becomes too much for Veronica, and she longs to escape the stifling ‘friendship’. Enter bad boy JD (Simon Gordon). He takes an interest in Veronica’s problems – and offers some pretty drastic solutions. For a while, Veronica is drawn to his sexy brand of nihilism, but soon realises he is dangerous. Can she extricate herself before even more damage is done?
It’s no easy feat to make a rambunctious, feelgood musical about murder, attempted rape, homophobia, suicide and school shootings, but writers Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe seem to have done just that. Despite its age, the show clearly still resonates: tonight’s screening is full, and the audience is mostly young women – who probably only know Winona from her role in Stranger Things. It’s an unabashedly schlocky piece of theatre, as camp as Christmas and – despite the body count – just bursting with life. I like the slight softening of JD’s character (he’s less sympathetic in the film, without as much backstory), and the constant presence of Heather Chandler’s kimono-clad ghost works well: she’s the most dynamic character in the play, and it would be a shame to lose her in the first act.
Directed by Andy Fickman, the chorus numbers are vibrant and the choreography suitably zippy, maximising the potential of The Other Palace Theatre’s small stage. Davidson shines in the lead role, her vocals impressive and her characterisation spot on. With its bright colour palette and bold delivery, Heathers provides the same kind of high-octane girl-power as Six.
“I know who I’m eating lunch with on Monday. Do you?”