Based on the ITV series set in a south London women’s prison that ran between 1999 and 2006, Bad Girls: The Musical premiered at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2006, followed by a short West End run.
In this revival, Rebecca Eastham’s slick staging makes a pretty convincing case for parole: the high-camp melodrama and the serious themes more or less balance each other out.
There isn’t much subtlety in the book by Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus and the music and lyrics by Kath Gotts are something of a mixed bag. The group numbers are more impactful than the solos, but all are performed with unflagging levels of energy by the cast. Andrew Exeter’s design, comprised of movable prison bars, and Rachel Chapman’s choreography are both fluidly achieved.
The prisoners all inhabit their larger-than-life characters with conviction, compensating for a few distractingly weak performances in the minor roles. Nicole Faraday is brassiness personified, reprising the role of queen bee Shell Dockley, which she created in the original production (she also appeared in the series in a different role).
Hayley-Jo Whitney brings a salty 60-fags-a-day glamour to gangster’s moll Yvonne Atkins, while director Eastham is nicely soulful as the enigmatic Nikki Wade, and Alexander Forster is vividly loathsome as the menacing prison guard Mr Fenner.
This depiction of women on the verge of all sorts of destructive behaviour is at times painful to watch, but the outcome in which the prisoners choose solidarity over infighting imparts some hope.