Crush review at Theatre Royal, Brighton – ‘somewhat shallow but undeniably enjoyable’
Crush is a new show from Maureen Chadwick, who previously ventured into musical theatre with a stage version of her own TV prison drama Bad Girls. Here, she focuses on the similarly all-female environment of a 1960’s boarding school. When a relationship is discovered between two students, the school’s liberal values are put under threat, and only a convoluted scheme can save them.
Energetic, jolly, and just plain silly, the show has all the depth of the teenage romance at its core – which is to say there is not much, but it is heartfelt. The farcical, sometimes surreal plot is deliberately two dimensional, both faithfully recreating and poking gentle fun at the whole range of ‘girls’ school’ tropes. You can practically see the speech bubbles as every ridiculous revelation is met with a spoken ‘gasp’, while David Farley’s inventive set draws on comic book art, sketching out the school grounds in black and white.
Kath Gott’s upbeat, jazz-infused score fixes the show in its sixties setting, but only rarely cuts loose. Rosemary Ashe – whose venerable roll call of West End credits include Prima Donna Carlotta in the original cast of Phantom – gives it real gusto in her two solo numbers as viciously Victorian headmistress Bleacher.
Crush touches on themes of social and sexual liberation which ache to be explored in more depth, and the ensemble cast clearly has the range to do so without souring the peppy atmosphere. Instead electing to focus on the fun, it is a light, enjoyable Eton mess owing more to St. Trinians than Miss Jean Brodie.