Wednesday, May 22

Cruel Intentions: The ‘90s Musical – The Other Palace

I will tell anyone who will listen that the ‘90s was a golden age for music. I don’t know if everyone feels that way about the music of their coming-of-age decade, but let us also remember that the ‘90s gave us The Spice Girls, No Doubt, Britney Spears… So, taking a cult ‘90s film and turning into a musical featuring classic tunes from the same era was always going to peak my interest.

I’d not been to The Other Palace – just around the corner from some of Victoria’s better known theatres – before, and I really wish I’d discovered it sooner. It’s a great space with comfy seats and a fancy gin bar – what’s not to like? So far, so good…

The piece opens with a stellar full cast performance – you can spot Kathryn (Rhianne-Louise McCaulsley) with her cold confidence and Daniel Barvo’s Sebastian’s languid arrogance a mile off, and the energetic choreography and gutsy vocals immediately give you a feeling for the kind of evening that you’re in for. For those who aren’t aware of the plot, it revolves around these two step siblings trying to manipulatively ruin two newcomers to their school – innocent, childlike Cecile (Rose Galbraith) and virtuous vicar’s daughter Annette (Abbie Budden). The latter two make their professional debuts in this production and both present as seasoned pros. Galbraith in particular brings perfect balance to her character, allowing her to be slightly ridiculous but without crossing over into being ‘hammy’ – and across the whole cast the vocals are flawless.

Photo: Pamela Raith Photography

The first act features some iconic tunes including Annette introducing herself to No Doubt’s ‘Just a Girl’, and Cecile and Kathryn sharing their memorable kiss to Sixpence None The Richer’s ‘Kiss Me’. By this point, there are some ripples of laughter from the audience. While the film was dark and brooding, this is it’s nostalgic, big, parody of a musical cousin. The clue is in the name – it is indeed a ‘90s musical and delivers hard on that promise. I could feel the vibrations from people tapping their feet and there are gasps of delight as each new song begins, often lifting some of the more recognisable choreography from the relevant music videos.

By act two – when Cecile celebrates her sexual awakening with a rendition of “The Sign” by Ace of Base, the audience has found its rhythm with the comical, delivery and the energy in the auditorium shifts up a gear. I’ve not enjoyed myself this much at a show in a very, very long time – it was pure, grinning from ear to ear joy. The band – situated across the stage’s balcony – is perfectly positioned in that they’re just visible without distracting from any of the action on the stage. And scant use of perfectly selected props echo key scenes from the film without creating any cumbersome scene changes.

It’s early to call my top production of 2024, but this is going to be hard to beat – an incredible cast who give the audience their all, performing a musical featuring songs and a plot that took me back to some of the happiest times of my youth. I’d go back every week if that was acceptable – and I’ll be recommending it to all of my friends, so I still haven’t quite ruled that out. A big go-see from me.

Playing until 19th May,

Reviewer: Zoe Meeres

Reviewed: 19th January 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.