Bad Girls

Date 16th May 2019
Society BANOS Musical Theatre
Venue Adrian Mann Theatre, Ewell
Type of Production Musical
Director Jeffrey Chinappen
Musical Director Dawn Tolley
Choreographer Kelly Neilson


Author: Jon Fox

Sometimes when watching a musical you simply have to say "WOW". This was definitely one of those rare occasions. From the opening scene to the splendid finale this production gripped the senses in an electrifying manner. Directed to near perfection by the visionary Jeffrey Chinappen, the show is based upon the award winning television drama of the same name by Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus in collaboration with Kath Gotts and Maggie Norris.

Somewhat to my amusement, I was asked if I was broad minded by a prominent member of the company when I attended. Indeed, this would not be a show for narrow minded or bigoted people and all the better for not being so! In fact, that mainstream TV and theatre audiences in general are now able to see and enjoy such a gritty and lifelike characterisation of life inside a women's prison speaks volumes for the success that theatre has helped to achieve in pushing aside the old narrow views that once were, sadly, commonplace. Vive la difference!

Quite irrespective of the admirable production and cast performances, Bad Girls stands as a top rate musical in its own right. Filled with catchy tunes and some memorable songs and beautifully written plot and characters, I consider this show to be among the first rank of great shows I have ever seen. Full marks, therefore, to BANOS for choosing this wonderful show.

With twenty scenes in all, it was imperative that set changes be swift, seamless and with a sensible lack of over bulky set in general  in favour of smaller and easily portable items well managed by SM Sarah Wood and her team, which ensured the all important scene continuity and speed.

Musical Director Dawn Tolley's five piece band did sterling work on the all important music and balance was excellent.   Songs  were sung with much feeling and conviction with a number of principal characters having fine singing voices.

Choreographers Kelly Neilson and Jeffrey Chinappen set some interesting and crisply danced routines, which made for a very good overall impression.

All the principal players gave outstanding performances and the depth of principal talent was rich and heartening to see. Jennie Morrison, as the headstrong and ill treated by the justice system, Nikki Wade, gave a brilliant, gritty and highly charismatic performance. Her mutual attraction to the honourable wing governor Helen Stewart - played to perfection by Victoria Swain - was a tale of burgeoning mutual love overcoming all obstacles and was, for my money, the most heart warming of the many interwoven plots and sub-plots in this beautifully written piece.

Two joint baddie roles, both wolves in ill disguised sheep's clothing as prison officers, were given by Kevin Hayes as the sleazy Jim Fenner and, pushing Kevin very hard in the performance stakes, was the admirable Sue Massingham as his partner in crime Sylvia (Bodybag) Hollamby. Kevin achieved a touch of greatness rarely seen in amateur theatre and to say I was impressed is a huge understatement.

The direction and portrayal of the chained to the bed scene where Fenner met his nemesis, courtesy of Shell, was a thing of wonder and perhaps the most powerfully played single scene I have seen this year.

It is  difficult, even so, to pick this scene out as the single show highlight, so wonderful was the whole production.

Helen Burgess-Bartlett as the prison brutalised and hardened Shell Dockley, with her growling "pet Rottweiler" in tow in the guise of Denny Blood, inhabited rather than played by Catherine Quinnn, were both acting masterpieces.

And then there were the Two Julies!  Julie Saunders and Julie Johnston, played by Carolyn Green and Nikki Sowe respectively, were yet two more diamonds, sparkling among many others in this overflowing Pirates' Treasure Chest.

If you are going to be a newbie prisoner who soon becomes top dog in a female prison, a large dollop of swagger, presence and sheer personality would seem to be a requirement. Anyone interested in playing such a role should first apply for permission to hire these qualities from Emma Pearson, as Yvonne Atkins. Emma owns the copyright !

But this show just kept on giving and it is a real task to find superlatives with which to adequately describe it. 

Zak Negri, all bonhomie and decency as Officer Justin Mattison, with his embarrassing misjudgment of the inclinations of his friend and colleague Helen, played all his scenes with his customary skill and he is already, though still young, a performer of some renown.

Poor terrified and overwrought new prisoner Rachel Hicks whose grizzly fate was, if not actually predictable, hardly a surprise was given huge authenticity by the talented Emma Bullock.

Sadly, space prevents me spelling out the names and talents of all the other players on stage. However, smaller roles and cameos were given by all the other players in varying amounts and each one added lustre to this amazing show. I want though to especially praise the singing of Rosalind Holden as Crystal  Gordon who opened  Act Two in rare style with the well sung "Freedom Rd" with all the Prisoners.

Whether dancing, singing, acting or whatever they were doing this was the single most impressive and richly talented cast I have had the pleasure of watching this season.

However,   backstage   talents are also vital to the success of  this show and   the skills and  imaginative use of lighting  and sound,  courtesy of Amy Worral, John Aldis  and Ben Jeffreys  on  lighting, together with  Steve Clemo, Colin Hannah and Howard on sound, matched  the  talents on stage.

Set was an in house team effort and all the better for that. Luisa Puig coordinated costumes, which were eminently suitable and appropriate. 

One tiny nit picky niggle is the well concealed  single line mention of NODA in the easily readable programme. And that is all I could find to fault. It was a colossus of a show and an even more gigantic performance by the cast and whole production crew.

Show director Jeff Chinappen's vision and stagecraft were abundantly evident throughout this professional standard production and in true British understatement style, I quite liked it! Oh forget British understatement, who needs it! It was an evening of sheer magic and I salute you all BANOS, each and everyone of you!