Heathers: Bullets, Bombs and Beautiful Harmonies

Heathers: The Musical, based on the 1988 film of the same name, is not your typical high school musical. It is set at an educational institution, the fictional Westerburg High, and it does feature all your usual stereotypes; jocks, nerds, the popular girls and try-hard teachers. Murder, suicide, bombs and bullets however? Let’s just say it’s not exactly Grease or Hairspray

Under the direction of Lucy Fenwick Elliot, the Queen’s College Music and Drama Society have brought this doozy of a show to Then Union Theatre, and their production packs a punch!

Leading the charge is Steph Markerink in the lead role of Veronica Sawyer, a high schooler who becomes tangled up in the web of Westerburg’s three popular Heathers. Across the plot, Veronica experiences the full gamut of human emotion. Markerink does remarkably well to convey this spectrum whilst always appearing genuine; her snarky laughter and heart-wrenching pleas are equally convincing. 

Crucially, Markerink’s voice is powerful and she wields it with confidence, most notably during ‘Dead Girl Walking’. The production’s strongest and most striking number, Markerink simply dominates the stage, walking all over JD and exuding self-assurance whilst belting out huge notes.

Playing much of the show opposite Markerink is Max Wilson as Jason ‘JD’ Dean. JD is very much the outsider, and Wilson finds the right brooding energy, depicting his character with a dangerous intensity throughout proceedings. Wilson and Markerink’s chemistry is impressive, there is a natural rhythm to their interactions that ensures the acting never distracts from the story.

The three Heathers, Chandler (Monica Ledger), McNamara (Domi Souter) and Duke (Milly Day-Collett), preside over Westerburg High School. Self-importance is the strongest shared trait of the three characters, and the actors appropriately dish it out in spades, particularly Ledger as the group’s head. Fenwick Elliot’s staging helps establish their dominance, she uses the levels of the stage to have the Heathers frequently stand over their classmates.

Hannah Jarvis’s brilliant choreography plays a vital role in the characterisation of the trio; sharp arm, hip and knee movements clearly convey power, most conspicuously in ‘Candy Store’. Ledger, Souter and Day-Collett admirably keep up with the arduous routines, forming a potent triumvirate. 

Sascha Lamlal and Katie Pozzi’s costumes complete the picture. Brightly coloured jackets allow the audience to comfortably identify each Heather and the well designed outfits mark the group out as fashionable within a classically ragtag school environment.

There are also a number of entertaining performances from across the wider cast. Julian Weiner-Angelopulo and Cassius Hynam are extremely funny as the dopey Kurt and Ram. Energetically utilising physical comedy, their rendition of ‘Blue’ leaves the audience gasping for air.

Nic Collins and James Worsfold form another amusing pairing as two fathers. ‘My Dead Gay Son’ would have to be one of the most enjoyable numbers performed at a funeral, both Collins and Worsfold throw themselves into the piece. 

Women are a strong feature of both the lead and ensemble casts of Heathers. Sofia Burns draws empathy well as Veronica’s (sometimes) best friend Martha Dunstock, providing a poignant second act moment with ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’, whilst Amelia Heulin plays the optimistic Ms. Fleming with just the right amount of misguided idealism.

Vocally, the show impresses without reaching the highest of heights. The harmonies between the Heathers are killer, and Markerink and Wilson also blend beautifully. The high notes are where a few performers come a little unstuck, but it is hardly a major complaint. 

Nicholas Clarnette leads the band exceedingly well for a first time conductor. The rock songs hit the audience in the face as they should, whilst the melancholy numbers are played with nuance and grace. Francesca Qu is particularly impressive on violin, her atmospheric work through scenes requiring great stamina. Hamish Francis rounds things off with aplomb, bashing out a sick drum fill to end the night.

A few minor sound issues aside, the Queen’s production of Heathers is a splendid night of (often morbid) entertainment, see it if you get the chance!

Hayden Smith

Queen’s College Music and Drama Society’s production of Heathers ran from 19 – 21 September at The Union Theatre.