REVIEW: RUTHLESS! THE MUSICAL (Arts Theatre) ★★★
This cult satire, exploring the deadly competition of show business, played off-Broadway for just under a year in 1992. Ruthless! The Musical follows Tina Denmark, an abnormally talented eight year old little girl, as she goes to drastic lengths to bag the main part in her school show. After her sickly sweet mother hits breaking point and turns her into the police, everything changes for Tina and the women in her life. Family history unravels as the need for the spotlight overrides anything left resembling sanity.
The set is gorgeously bold and changes drastically in each act. The majority of Act One is set in Tina’s home, a perfectly matching front room with not a hair out of place. The second act is set entirely in her mother’s brand new modern apartment with city views and a shelving unit filled with awards.
The costumes, designed by Morgan Large, are just as dazzling. There is an abundance of underskirt netting and impeccably curated wigs. The aesthetic of Tina Denmark with rosy cheeks and hay-blonde curls, is particularly striking and designed boldly to fit the extravagance of the B-movie style plot.
For the most part, the cast is of an extremely high calibre. Anya Evans dominates the stage with a charmingly threatening energy which garners several laughs throughout. Her singing and dancing is flawless and the moments choreographed specifically for her are the most fruitful in the show. Jason Gardiner, who plays Sylvia St. Croix, holds a note well and would be a solid choice for a pantomime dame but his part seems somewhat under-developed but over-used in the story. Kim Maresca and Lara Denning perform with admirable vocals and characterisation, making it more of a shame that so much of the script leaves a lot to be desired. Scenes last a disproportionate amount of time and often sag when a joke halts the story in its tracks.
The word ‘ruthless’ illustrates positive and negative connotations in equal measures. However, the specific statement Ruthless! is trying to make is somewhat ambiguous. The programme suggests the show is celebrating ruthless women from throughout showbiz history i.e. Bette Davis as Baby Jane in ‘Whatever happened to Baby Jane?’ and Imelda Staunton as Mrs Lovett in ‘Sweeney Todd’. However, the entire premise of the show is overtly mocking the determination of these women which is indeed far more cold-blooded and barbaric than simply ruthless. The satirical humour is relentless and often under developed. The script drags jokes into long sections which never ultimately move the story forward. When boiled down, Ruthless! simply remarks upon the more eccentric of those in the industry.
Overall, the show is fun. The colour and energy of the piece certainly detracts from the weak story-line. However, at times the silliness can get a little old, particularly when there is a lack of direction to anchor the plot. If you’re looking for a night to admire high-budget production and uncomplicated laughs, then buy a ticket and enjoy. But don’t expect to leave with a catchy song or thought-provoking message.
Reviewed by Nicole Darvill-Batten
Photo: Tristram Kenton