“Heathers: The Musical” @sohoplace

Mark Shenton in the West End
4 June 2024


Yet another new term has begun at Westerberg High School, the institution in Sherwood, Ohio that is at the centre of this musical adaptation of a 1989 film that famously starred Winona Ryder, but has now long become a cult hit all of its own.



Jenna Innes and Keelan McAuley.
Photo credit: Pamela Raith Photography.


But weirdly, for this slice of all-American flavoured life, Heathers has had to come to Britain to establish those credentials. A 2014 off-Broadway run – which I saw on its opening night at New World Stages on 50th Street – didn’t move to Broadway, but its UK premiere at The Other Palace in 2018 was followed by a West End transfer to the Haymarket, and – post-pandemic – two UK and Ireland tours, alongside a lengthy sit-down return to The Other Palace.


Now Heathers is back yet again, with a limited season at @sohoplace preceding another national tour. For the first time since opening in 2022 @sohoplace is configured with its seating and stage end-on after being used in-the-round before. The show works a treat in the intimate confines of this theatre, with the audience pressed against its thrust stage on three sides. We are so close to the actors we could be part of the school assembly.


Many of the largely youthful audience that are its fans are not long away from attending those assemblies themselves, and may find this surprisingly dark and sometimes stark portrayal of the politics of school years intensely relatable, even if – we hope – murder isn’t usually a way of settling playground dislikes.


But Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s musical – for which they co-wrote the book, music, and lyrics – has an amiable energy that never makes it too heavy, some crisply comic characterizations even if they often tend towards archetypes and/or stereotypes, and a bouncily enjoyable pop score that’s put across with verve and punch by the young cast.


A real key to the success of director Andy Fickman and associate director/choreographer Gary Lloyd’s production is the casting, and with 13 of the company making their West End debuts here, the show is providing a major entry-route to the profession.


That’s not to be sniffed at; here’s a show that is channelling both new audiences and new actors to the stage. Heather Duke – one of the trio of Heathers, the Queen bees of the school’s social hierarchy – is played by Sedona Sky, who is yet to even graduate from ArtsEd, while fellow alumnus Esme Bowdler graduated in 2021 and last year made it to the final two in the televised Mamma Mia! I Have a Dream contest to cast the lead role of Sophie in the West End; she is now playing the imposing and formidable Heather Chandler.


But the company also includes many returnees, with the Heathers trio completed by the elegantly cool Daisy Twells returning from the last UK touring and Other Palace company as Heather McNamara, while Jenna Innes also returns as Veronica Sawyer, who insinuates herself effortlessly into the gang but also helps them to re-orientate their behaviours.


There’s lovely and striking work throughout the company to keep the show genuinely fresh and engaging, including Iván Fernández González and Jason Battersby as the male “eye-candy” school jocks who spend much of the show in just their underwear, Keelan McAuley as the mysterious newcomer student J.D., and Lucy Sinclair, Conor McFarlane, and Alexander Service in various adult roles.


The West End is about to welcome another show about antagonizing adolescents – Mean Girls (also based on a previous film) – but Heathers got to the stage first, and will be difficult to beat.