REVIEW: CRUSH (Richmond Theatre)

ESC_8872 copy1There’s a new woman in town: after the death of the beloved Headmistress of the Dame Dorothea Dosserdale School for Girls, the horrid Miss Bleacher takes over the reins in 1963. Formerly the institution was known to educate free thinkers. Now, much to the dismay of Miss Austin and the pupils, Bleacher is only concerned to teach the “breeders of future leaders”. Meanwhile, the heirs of the former school founders are investigating Bleacher’s schemes undercover as P.E. teacher Miss Givings and caretaker. As much as the story circles around the problems of the school, the plot diverts halfway through when concentrating on the lesbian couple Camilla and Susan. As they are soon found out and divulged by bullied Brenda, they see their only chance in running off to London together.

Crush is both a homage and parody of girls’ school stories from the 60s, with a modern way of portraying issues such as feminism and lesbianism.

The musical is its strongest when it focuses on the parody and less on its own storytelling. The actors do their best to underline the cartoonish aspect (e.g. they repeatedly exclaim “GASP!”) by purposefully overacting. This is by all means a positive remark. Especially together with the seemingly pencil-drawn (and uncoloured) set design, the jolly and slightly nostalgic atmosphere is created successfully. Rosemary Ashe is great as Thatcherian dragon of a teacher and bounces of well Sara Crowe’s sympathetic but not entirely submissive Miss Austin. The storybook humour comes written by Maureen Chadwick and Kath Gotts that have penned the now-hit Bad Girls – The Musical.
Story, songs and acting all got significantly stronger during the second half. Stephanie Clift instils a sweet note and genuine teenage confusion into the chaotic jolliness of all the rest. Brianna Ogunbawo wows with her amazing jazz voice and Rosemary Ashe sets a highlight with her final number. All in all, the cast seemed to have “warmed up” by the second half, as unfortunately in the first Act they sometimes sang a bit too quietly or mumbled some lyrics. The choreographies by Richard Roe are particularly enjoyable and make you wish for more tap dancing numbers. Funnily enough, this seems the strength of this cast.

While neither the lyrics nor plot of Crush are excitingly new or mindblowing, it makes for good-humoured entertainment and goes highly recommended to all those craving a lighthearted evening of fun!

Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent

Crush is playing at the Richmond Theatre until 3 October 2015. Click here for tickets