“Mean Girls” at Savoy Theatre

Mark Shenton in the West End
28 June 2024

London is awash with back to high school musicals: Babies, currently at The Other Palace, is set in a British high school, but otherwise it’s to American versions we’ve variously travelled to, with central casting providing the types and most of the tropes on offer there. So we’ve been back to Rydell High (Grease, recently back at the Dominion), Westerberg High in Sherwood, Ohio (Heathers, at @sohoplace), and now North Shore High in Evanston, Ohio (Mean Girls, receiving its West End premiere at the Savoy, after its successful 2019 Broadway premiere was curtailed by the arrival of the pandemic, and never re-opened there).


The cast.
Photo credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg.

In a pre-show announcement asking audiences to refrain from filming or photographing the show, we’re reminded that the story of Mean Girls has already been filmed twice: in 2004, featuring Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams and in a 2024 film version of the stage musical.

Is there yet more life – or depth – to be squeezed from such a familiar property? If the reactions of an indulgent – and overwhelmingly female – audience is anything to go by, this brightly vivacious production delivers on its promise to repackage the already loved property with gleaming new outfits (Katrina Lindsay), highly energized dancing (Casey Nicholaw is both choreographer and director), and happy (though not especially memorable) songs by Jeff Richmond (music) and Nell Benjamin (lyrics).

To be honest, as a middle-aged male drama critic I know I’m not exactly the target audience, but the show – scripted by Tina Fey, who also wrote the film (and appeared in it, too) – is smart and witty enough to provide both laugh-out-loud moments and acquire proper dramatic momentum.

The plot follows a teenager girl’s journey from being home-schooled in Kenya to her return to America, where she’s now a serious outsider. As played by breakout star-in-the-making Charlie Burn, Cady Heron’s clearly ambitious but likeable. Initially adopted by two of the school’s geeks Janis and Damian – played with disarming vulnerability and candour by Elena Skye and Tom Xander – she hits on a scheme to embed herself within “the plastics”, a trio of glamorous girls headed by “alpha predator” Regina George (Georgina Castle, oozing sass), with Elèna Gyasi and Grace Mouat as her more vulnerable sidekicks Gretchen and Karen.

Boys inevitably come into complicate the picture, but they’re refreshingly subservient to the central focus on the women in the story. Daniel Bravo is the striking male eye-candy Aaron, who is also given more depth as he pivots between the two lead women.

The whole thing is packaged in sets (by Scott Pask) that are mostly surfaces for British video designers Finn Ross and Adam Young’s projections to live within.

This is a bright splash of a summer musical that will continue to delight audiences well into the winter months to see another summer or three. Like Legally Blonde – which also played at the Savoy, and was also co-written Nell Benjamin – this could well be a bigger success here in London than it turned out to be on Broadway.