Cruel Intentions the Musical
Rating: ★★
Venue: The Other Palace, London
Cast: Josh Barnett, Daniel Bravo, Jess Buckby, Abbie Budden, Rose Galbraith, Nickcolia King-N’Da, Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky and Barney Wilkinson 

A must-see experience in New York and Los Angeles and following a sold-out, critically acclaimed production in the Assembly Palais du Variété spiegeltent at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical, from the producers of smash hit Heathers the Musical, finally arrives in London.

Friday night was the highly anticipated press night for Cruel Intentions the Musical, playing at The Other Palace. I went into this show, completely blind, having never seen the film, so I can’t compare or draw any connections with the film, I do wonder whether there is a discrepancy in levels of enjoyment between those who had seen and loved the movie compared to those who hadn’t. I felt it completely lacked originality, the exact same as all of the other chick-flick style musicals that already exist. It was unclear or not whether this was intended to be a parody, but truthfully, if it was then it took itself far too seriously, and if not then there was a distinct lack of refinement.

Cruel Intentions is a 1990s cult classic with a very problematic storyline, and not only is there a culture of unnecessarily making musicals out of every film, but there, especially distressing trend of revamping some pretty problematic stories. It’s really time to let sleeping dogs lie; we don’t need to erase existing art but it doesn’t need reviving either. I thought some of the casting decisions were questionable. Playing ages were all over the place with actors shooting somewhat above or below their true believable range, which seems to be in keeping with opinions surrounding the casting of the movie. Having teen girls played by actors who present significantly younger, with hair, costume, and directorial decisions exacerbating that and coupled with the extreme sexual themes within the story, makes for a very uncomfortable watch.

Groups of people randomly breaking into song and dance numbers in the middle of sentences and shopping malls is never natural, but most shows manage to make it fit in enough that the concept doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb while you’re immersed in the show. Sadly, I don’t think this show managed that at all. Every number appears a strange, random intrusion in each scene, which not only made for a broken and disrupted performance, but also felt as though a script had been taken and had songs inserted into it for the sake of putting on a musical, rather than sculpting an existing show into a musical that flows and feels as though it was always intended to be one. The song choices felt arbitrary at best, as though very little thought went into them, except possibly what would get a cheap laugh. The track choices served to further undermine the dignity of the production, and honestly felt rather insulting to both the actors and characters and did not do the story any justice at all.

There were multiple scene transitions that were staged quite well, slick and clean with no visual or sound pollution coming from the stage. Yet after the most intense moment in the show, even in the blackout, the transition can be seen and heard taking place on stage; an artistic decision that entirely shatters the illusion and completely removes us as an audience from the world of the show.

The limited number of stars I am giving this production are purely to acknowledge the hard work put in by all of the company and the gorgeous job they have done with the material they were given. I think the design by Polly Sullivan is sophisticated and suits the story well. It cleverly conforms to multiple settings without really changing at all, and was executed brilliantly by the scenic art team. For the most part, Gary Lloyd’s choreography, although at times a little inconsistent, was overall fun and filled the show and songs well. Huge amounts of talent spilt off of that stage, while there was some overacting that resulted in cringey moments, there was also some absolutely killer vocals going on, especially Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky and Rose Galbraith. Abbie Budden has soared from social media content creator, to TikTok sensation, and Cruel Intentions is both hers and Rose’s professional debut. I am seriously excited to see these two grow and make their way through the industry. Remember their names, I truly believe they will be two to watch out for!

You can book tickets to see Cruel Intentions at The Other Palace, here.

Written by Rachel Sarah Leveney

**photo credit to Pamela Raith**

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