Bad Girls: The Musical at Union Theatre
If you’re looking for a thoroughly entertaining night out at the theatre, Bad Girls: The Musical delivers in spades. Director Will Keith and choreographer Jo McShane have delivered a revival that’s packed to the prison rafters with camp fun, melodrama and gutsy performances.
Union Theatre’s intimate space provides the perfect setting for the unfolding dramas of HMP Larkhall. The audience is up-close and personal with the ragtag gang of inmates and their deep-down hearts of gold. The simple set – designed by Jess Phillips – is transformed into something altogether more atmospheric by the vivid sound effects: the menacing jangling of keys, the loud clink of a door slamming and the incessant drip-drip-drip of a tap echoing down the prison halls. In a clever touch, the excellent band is hidden just out of sight, behind a wire gauze partition.
In the opening number, Jack Weir’s inspired lighting design introduces us to each of the women, shining a spotlight on them as they each tell a sorry tale of how they ended up banged up. The cast are a brilliant ensemble and riff off each other to great comic effect. Standout performances include Sinead Long as the ultimate snarling bad girl and Shell, oozing in-your-face sex appeal from her wild shock of blonde hair down to her electric pink leopard-print wedges. Catherine Digges and Jayne Ashley make a very funny double-act as the two sex-starved Julies, and Gareth Davies is genuinely creepy as crooked guard Jim Fenner (his promise to keep “a special eye” on his favourite girls is squirm inducing).
Kath Gotts’ tunes are catchy, and her lyrics witty and often delightfully over-the-top. Jailcraft, performed by Fenner and his sidekick, Sylvia “Bodybag” Hollamby, is an amusing, vaudeville-style song and dance number. The gutsy and brilliantly choreographed A-list, led by the scene-stealing Christine Holman as gangster’s wife Yvonne Atkins, is reminiscent of Chicago’s jazzy soundtrack. And the haunting Freedom Road is gorgeously sung by the jail’s self-appointed voice of morality, Crystal (Livvy Evans).
Underneath all of Bad Girls’ comedy there’s a genuine desire to make a serious point about the state of a broken prison system. In the “us and them” story at its heart – the feisty jailbirds vs the corrupt Fenner and Sylvia – the earnest new wing governor, Helen (Tori Hargreaves), represents a more enlightened way of seeing the prisoners: one that doesn’t forget their humanity and whose goal is to deliver them back to society, more good than bad.
Bad Girls: The Musical is on at Union Theatre from 9th March until 2nd April 2016, for further information or to book visit here.