Why hasn’t anyone thought of setting a musical in a girl’s school in the 1960s before? The scenario lends all sorts of juicy ingredients: the banter, the uniform, the St Trinian’s style japes and plot, the sexual revolution and the dawn of feminism.
Crush, the new musical that opened at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre this week, takes those raw elements and mashes them up into an easily digestable and rather yummy stew.
The sixth-formers at Dame Dorothea Dosserdale School for Girls are enjoying halcyon schooldays. They love their school, which enjoys a tradition of producing feisty free-thinking girls: such as Susan (a solid and convincing Stephanie Clift) the heroine of the story, a working class girl with aspirations to go to Oxford. She has a sort of sexual relationship – a ‘crush’ in schoolgirl parlance – with fellow pupil, the endearingly posh Camilla (Charlotte Miranda-Smith).
So far so lovely and liberal… Until the recently deceased Dame is replaced by battleaxe new head Miss Bleacher (played with wonderful fascistic zeal by Rosemary Ashe), who delivers the stupidly brilliant song The Future Mothers Of The Future Sons Of England with patriotic fever upon her arrival. It’s a declaration of intent: she wants her girls will be good wives and breeders, and she will stamp out any ‘deviant’ behaviour. She recruits goody-two shoes pupil Brenda (a marvellously toady Georgia Oldman) to help do her spying and her stamping. And when she finds out about Susan and Camilla’s nascent love affair, she is out to get them…
With the help of beloved teacher Miss Austin (the charming Sara Crowe), the mysterious new PE teacher Miss Givings (Kirsty Malpass) and caretaker (James Meunier), the girls, in true St Trinian’s-stylee, set out to save the school and themselves.
There’s plenty of laughs and top songs along the way, including the rather glorious Navy Knicks (I can still sing it now), which sees the girls don those old-fashion gym pants, grab a hockey stick and do an impressive kick line and tap routine.
Besides the rather great collection of songs (composed by Kath Gotts) and the well-carfted script (created by Maureen Chadwick), the look and feel of the production is bang on. I particularly liked the cartoon scenery, which gave a nod to the mighty Ronald Searle (author of the St Trinian’s series).
My only quibble would be with the love story which becomes a bit convoluted when the girls run away to London and Camilla falls for a bloke (Dorian, who was pretending to be the caretaker), leaving Susan to realize she was actually in love with another pupil Daimler (fabulously soulful singer Brianna Ogunbawo) all along.
But it’s a musical and these panotesque plot twists are allowed, I guess.
Crush has wit and originality, heart and soul, and of course some cracking songs – if it were a GCSE it would be an A from me.