BWW Review: BAD GIRLS THE MUSICAL, Union Theatre, March 12 2016

The Union Theatre continues its longstanding commitment to reviving neglected musicals with Bad Girls (continuing until 2 April), some eight years or so after its brief West End run. Now, in the tight confines of this soon to be defunct space (the Union is moving across the road), Will Keith's direction gives a distinctly prison-like feel to events and, despite a slightly drawn out second act, maintains a good pace towards its satisfying, if predictable, conclusion.

Rachel (a childlike Sarah Goggin) is inside for the first time, and soon catches the eye of warder Jim Fenner (an oilily convincing Gareth Davies) who is seeking to oust reformist supervisor Helen Stewart (Tori Hargreaves as a rare theatrical scouser on the right side of the law). But Rachel really is as naive as she appears and, when things go badly wrong, gangster's moll Yvonne Atkins (a cougarish Christine Holman) and hardcase Nikki Wade (Ceili O'Connor) join forces to gain some semblance of justice for those locked up and forgotten.

Designer Jess Phillips has done a fine job in dressing the bad girls and creating a set that can be adapted to different settings in the minimum time - and this show does need as much pace as possible, since it crams in perhaps one or two sub-plots too many for comfort. If some of the characters have been seen before in the many other prison dramas on TV and in the cinema, the songs give plenty of lift to the show, with some worked up into full dance sequences spectacularly delivered in a small space. First act opener and closer, I Shouldn't Be Here and That's The Way It Is, are real highlights, as is the singing of Ceili O'Connor and Jayne Ashley in particular and the many numbers given full chorus arrangements supported by an excellent band.

It's good to see this show given a "straight" treatment as its themes are serious and current - it would be very easy (and perhaps commercially tempting) to do it as a nascent camp classic, but it would need a rewrite for that. As it stands now, it's a pleasing diversion that might be better for a ten minutes cut in the second act, but works perfectly well as a musical that suits The Union in 2016 a lot more than it did The Garrick in 2007.

Photo Andrew Coxon

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