REVIEW: BAD GIRLS (The Union Theatre)

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. The show is now back in London at The Union Theatre in the heart of Southwark (a venue which is due to move into a brand new venue this summer, opposite the current theatre) and these are girls you would not want to come face to face with in a dark street at night.

The story of the musical is (I am told) based on the first series of the TV Show. Yes, that’s right, I have never actually watched Bad Girls! The show opens with Rachel Hicks, a young new mother, being 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?

The cast of sixteen all bring different qualities to the show and keep it interesting all the way through. There are some great double – Sinead Long and Imelda Warren-Green as inmates Shell Dockley and Denny Blood, parade around the prison with sass and own their patch. Gareth Davies and Maggie Robson play prison wardens Jim Fenner and Sylvia ‘Bodybag’ Hollamby with a hilarious Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett esq approach, secretly plotting to wreak havoc on the inmates in order to protect what they believe to be the greater good. Equally hilarious are the comedy-due of the two Julies played by Jane Ashley and Catherine Digges, two brilliantly played roles. Celia O’Connor is strong, fresh-faced and engaging as Nikki Wade and Perry Meadowcroft, as warden Justin Mattison is sweet and innocent, potentially too nice for this job and the inmates play with him like a cat with a mouse. Meg Mccarthy played the role of mobsters wife Yvonne Atkins in place of Christine Holman at the performance I saw. Her acting was great but vocally she needed to project more during songs.

The music in this show is great, providing a lot of stand out numbers (especially in the second half) and provides both the hard-hitting, powerful ensemble numbers and the softer, more though provoking ballads which keeps things interesting.

Bad Girls the musical is like watching a gritty TV drama with songs (as you would expect). It didn’t let itself become cheesy and had me engaged throughout the whole two and a half hours. Definitely worth checking out whilst it is on at the Union Theatre until 2 April 2016.

Reviewed by West End Wilma
Photo: Darren Bell