Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Ruthless! The Musical - Arts Theatre

Following an acclaimed Off-Broadway production, 1992 show Ruthless! The Musical is playing at the Arts Theatre until 23rd June. The musical presents a suburban American family: a housewife who is permitted no identity beyond this role and her 8-year-old daughter, Tina, who wants nothing more than to be a star. Under the guidance of her talent agent, Tina murders her classmate in order to gain the lead role in the school musical. What follows is a series of ridiculous twists and turns, culminating in a frenzy of hysteria.

The musical brashly plasters its satire through melodrama and stereotyped female figures, with each screeched line and overprounced movement slapping another layer onto the show’s cakey facade. There are no subtleties or concealed messages; everything is revealed face value. This is a satire of musicals and showbiz, and it sure wants you to know it. 

In odd conjunction with the array of stereotyped female characters, there is a piece in the programme celebrating ‘ruthless’ women and the 'femme fatale', concluding with a convoluted suggestion that the Time's Up movement is a risk to the 'femme fatale'. While it’s quite clear the musical mocks the stereotypes it offers, it by no means leaves you with a feminist message, or even celebration of ruthless women. 

The women of Ruthless! The Musical are in fact caricatures of stereotypes: simple-minded housewife, shallow agent, alcoholic grandmother and bratty child. The show attempts to dart any feminist backlash, with its forced smiles and exaggerated performance, like an obtrusive disclaimer painted across their faces, reciting through gritted teeth ’we’re so aware of this overt sexism that it couldn’t possibly be sexist’. It's a confusing portrayal, even without the contradictory preceding article.

Putting this to one side, the musical’s humour does translate, with a laugh-out-loud moment every minute. The four leads do well with the material at hand, and their comic timing is consistently spot on. Special mention must go to Anya Evans as Tina, who owns the space, every movement, her characterisation and some tricky notes, often making the scenes between her shining moments feel comparatively flat. 

There is a welcome change of scenery in the second half, and as the melodrama rises to a loud and hyperbolic conclusion, the characters step even further out of the realms of reality.

If you accept Ruthless! The Musical for what it is - a showy piece of melodramatic satire - its an entertaining 90 minutes full of a lot of genuinely funny moments. Just don’t delve too deeply into what it might or might not be saying.

* I was gifted this ticket in exchange for a review, but all words and opinions are my own.

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