REVIEW: BAD GIRLS THE MUSICAL (Upstairs at the Gatehouse) ★★

BAD GIRLS the Musical, written by Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus (writers of the original ITV prison drama) premiered at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2006 before a three month run at the Garrick Theatre in London’s West End in 2007.

Rachel Hicks, a young new mother, is admitted to G-wing at HMP Larkhall on a minor drugs conviction.  She is immediately targeted by troublemakers Shell Dockley and her sidekick Denny Blood who immediately spot Hicks’ penchant for drugs and seek to push more on her from the inside.

G-wing is governed by Helen Stewart, a relatively new and inexperienced Wing Governor who is determined to break down the antiquated “them and us” barriers and support the female inmates through their time in prison.  Helen’s new-age approach is detested by prison stalwarts Jim Fenner, a seasoned prison guard who resents Helen’s superiority over him, and his lapdog Sylvia Hollamby, the acid-tongued battleaxe who believes the inmates are the scourge of society and deserve everything they get while serving their time.

The top dog of G-wing is Nikki Wade.  Nikki is in for murder but due for appeal soon; Stewart believes in Nikki’s innocence but Fenner and Hollamby are determined to keep Nikki in trouble and dash her chances of freedom.

The darker themes to this story are balanced with the two Julies.  A pair of low rent prostitutes-turned-prison cleaners who lust after the young and handsome prison guard, Justin.

On Rachel Hick’s first night, Fenner tells her she’s special and is going to keep a special eye on her; but has he gone too far this time…?  The arrival of gangster’s moll Yvonne Atkins – well connected on the outside as well on the inside – sets the cat amongst the pigeons; is this one enemy Fenner does ‘t want to make?

Having really enjoyed the 2016 production of this musical at The Union Theatre, I was excited to see another version of Bad Girls the Musical on stage but sadly this version was a bit of a let down.

Alexander Forster, as Jim Fenner, gave a disappointing performance, vocally weak and with acting wooden. Tony Sharp gave a Guy Goma-esque performance as Number One, looking extremely uncomfortable on stage and like he was reading his lines for the first time. Sadly, theirs and quite a few of the other performances, felt more like a community project than a professional production.

The saving graces in this production are original star of the TV series, Nicole Faraday, as Shell Dockley and Lucyelle Cliffe as Julie Saunders. Both of these actresses gave stand out performances and made it glaringly obvious how good this production could have been with better casting and more love given to the production. Benjamin Connor also gave a sweet and innocent portrayal as Justin Mattison.

Knowing how good Bad Girls the Musical can be, it was sad to see a production that didn’t live up to its potential. Director Rebecca Eastham (who also plays Nikki Wade in the show) could have benefited from focusing just on directing, rather than performing in the show as well, which perhaps caused the quality of the production fall down.

Reviewed by West End Wilma
Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

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