Bad Girls: The Musical, the all-singing, all-dancing version of the classic ITV prison drama Bad Girls, has landed at the Above the Gatehouse Theatre in swanky north London suburb Highgate, with original cast member Nicole Faraday reprising the lead role of Shell Dockley.
The difficulty of striking a balance between gritty realism (rape, suicide and drug abuse), with snappy, comedic one-liners and toe-tapping musical numbers cannot be over-estimated and this production just about gets it right. Get it wrong, and you’re in danger of veering into “Springtime for Hitler” territory, but if you hit the right note the balance between hard-hitting storyline and singalong melody can, at its best, carry satisfying echoes of Bunuel and Brecht.
I understand that a small, above-a-boozer theatre simply cannot deliver the lavish production values of the West End but, nonetheless, the direction was no more than workmanlike: satisfactory without being in any way innovative. That said, any production stands and falls by the quality of its performances and Faraday, whose CV boasts an extensive back catalogue of evil blonde roles, goes some way to stealing the show. She was at once menacing and hilarious in what, let’s face it, is a gift of a part. Bad Girls is, if nothing else, an ensemble piece and special mention must go to Sheridan Smith-a-like Hayley-Jo Whitney as gangster’s moll Yvonne Atkins and Rebecca Eastham’s sensitive portrayal of wronged lesbian lifer Nikki Wade.
Sadly, not every performance hit the same heights. Tony Sharp as Number One (the prison governor) was entirely without tone or nuance while Carol Sharp as prison officer Sylvia Hollamby can’t sing, can’t act and, from where I was sitting, can’t learn lines. I do not wish to be cruel, but serious questions need to be asked of whoever is responsible for casting. Dreadful.
Fortunately, the good by far outweighed the bad, with the agonies of the tribulations of women in the prison system portrayed with a real emotional depth. Tears and laughter in equal measure, which the audience and even this middle-aged male reviewer could relate to.
Bad Girls: The Musical is Above the Gatehouse until 3rdMarch. http://www.upstairsatthegatehouse.com/bad-girls-the-musical