BAD GIRLS: THE MUSICAL
DRAMANATRIX PRODUCTIONS, October 1st-15th, Renegade Studios
My Two Pence
By Robert Blackburn
DramaNatrix Productions presents 'Bad Girls: The Musical'; a raunchy, debaucherous romp through Larkhall Women's prison. Based on the British TV series of the same name (sans musical) from the late 90s, the play aims to replicate and illuminate the harrowing lives of female inmates, which it does with varying degrees of success. Where it definitely succeeds is presenting the women's lives on a tinderbox where any hint of a spark can suddenly erupt the prison into fists, scraps and hurled abuse.
Less successful is the dramatic through-line of the many characters- which is part of the problem. There are too many main characters to include a satisfying arc for all of them into a two and a half hour show. The Musical covers two seasons of the original series, so whereas they had multiple episodes to flesh out arcs and follow the women to dramatic conclusions that aspect gets pushed to the back to make place for the (albeit entertaining) music and dance routines. This is no more evident than in the 'love' story between Nikki Wade (Florence Reiher) and Wing Governor Helen Stewart (Jill Raymond portraying a moral Scot). Essentially the romance comes from nowhere with a couple of micro scenes placed before it to try and allow the reality of it for the audience. It doesn't work, the audience are required to invent their own backstory to fill in the gaps. This is not to say the actresses didn't give it a fair crack but were ultimately let down by the structure and depth of their scenes.
Prisons are clearly a dangerous place and the ensemble constantly aims to remind us of that fact. It's a shitty, horrible experience- so placing a musical in that environment is definitely an interesting choice. If the aim was to alleviate our worries and social guilt about such places then job done. The laughs were plenty with the banter between the girls rife, especially between The Two Julies (Charlotte Wright and Natalie Schreiber) and the dancing provocative and well choreographed. So you can enjoy the spectacle for what it is or worry about the incongruous nature of it all. In spite of this I think they did push it too far with the ending- the women suddenly seemed to be all smiles and pally with each other in their underwhelming closer “This is my life”
The highlight of the night was “Freedom Road” sung by Sarah Smith front and centre and the opening of Act 2. The acting throughout the song was a sight to behold; something often all too forgotten in other musicals when the actors think they can sail through on their singing skills alone. This was not the case for any of the cast in this production which was a huge plus.
Every member of the cast strutted and swaggered across the stage with gusto, energy and gravitas. The singing and dance routines were entertaining and well orchestrated. The lighting, however, never conceived to lend a helping hand to the actresses and was more often than not a hindrance as they fought to find the light and follow the various spots around stage. A more 'lights up' approach may have been needed for simplicity. The writer's (Maureen Chadwick & Ann McManus) choice of scenes and blanket use of characters lets a lot of the journeys down. But all-in-all a thoroughly entertaining night out.
My Two Cents
By Josh Dafoe
First of all, I am not much of a writer and I would say I'm not a critic, but I
guess all it takes is giving your opinion once and there you go being a big jerk like everyone else. That said, I find myself writing my first review for DramaNatrix's production of "Bad Girls" which it turns out is a musical. Now, I'll admit I'm not much of a musical fan so we're off to a bad start already, and you're probably wondering why someone like me would be doing a review like this. Well, I am trying to better myself and this other Brit needed a Canadian's opinion, so stop judging me and listen to me judge this show, okay?
"Bad Girls" or, as I like to think of it, Orange-Is-The-New-Black-meets-the-Spice-Girls-leftovers is surprisingly entertaining for a guy that would normally be watching the Jays over a beer. The show is about women in a British prison trying to deal with a corrupt system that includes a very rapey guard, whilst also having to deal with their own problems like being the target of said guard. Sounds simple enough but it actually had a few turns I didn't see coming which is a plus when you're trying to figure out why there were so many Americans (or Canadians) in this prison. If one was to guess nationality based on accents for the most part they were actually quite good and some even excellent so credit to the time spent on working on those, but there were a few obvious foreign exchange prisoners and staff.
It is a real ensemble piece as there is no true star of the show per se with a lot of stage time shared between many characters. And you know what? For a show called "Bad Girls" the performances were not bad at all. The two Julies aka Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum spice played by Charlotte Wright and Natalie Schreiber brought the laughs when they were needed as the show tries to deal with some heavy subject matter. Even though it doesn't quite give the push to bring a tear to the eye due to the gravitas of the situation being rushed as musicals seem to do; and a seemingly random love story thrown in... oh yeah, it's a musical. The choreography was tight with the union jack making its way into a very catchy and sexy number (of which there were plenty) and vocally there were some powerful moments including an emotionally charged Crystal Gordon played by Sarah Smith that impressed me.
Technically the show was in need of some help. The lighting was problematic with characters constantly unlit or stepping out of visible areas while delivering lines to the point of being quite immersion breaking and with so many props being passed around in the dark some were bound to fall and they did. A ring of keys sat in the middle of the prison for a bit and my eyes were locked on to them till a helpful prison janitor swept them up and I assume made a break for freedom.
Most of the credit for my rating is going to the cast for pouring a lot of passion into this, rocking out the musical numbers of which I actually mostly enjoyed and the creative use of the space even with tech challenges.