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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Operatic's tough take on life inside takes no prisoners

* A scene from Bad Girls the Musical staged by Llangollen Operatic Society.

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Llangollen Operatic Society is releasing a set of desperate jailbirds plus a bunch of equally hardcore screws onto Town Hall audiences this week.

From tomorrow (Wednesday) until Saturday a talented 17-strong cast – backed as usual by a highly competent production team and an accomplished orchestra – have been set free to present Bad Girls the Musical.

But if you’re thinking previous of prison-themed musicals you might have seen, forget it. Because Jailhouse Rock this definitely ain’t.

Based on the smash-hit TV drama series from the 1990s, the action takes place inside the fictitious Larkhill women's prison. 

* Trouble is never far from the surface in Larkhill women's prison.

But despite the dark comedy, which is ladeled out as thickly as prison porridge, and the excellent songs which accompany and fuel the action, this is strong stuff, with themes such as sexual exploitation, suicide and drug dependence tackled head on. And that means the dialogue is hard core too.

The opening scene of a young prisoner being put through the usual demeaning process – including a humiliating strip-search - of being checked in for her time behind bars sets the tone for the whole piece.

As the plot develops we gradually meet more of her fellow inmates and prison officers whose character weaknesses and strengths are magnified by their mutually captive situation. We see loud, brash and violent prisoners become protective of one another, or “screws” with dark traits become even darker.  

But, despite the challenging subject matter, this is a wonderfully well-handled piece of musical theatre with a polished cast which includes some real gems, such as Naomi Riley and Amie Harrison-Bickley as, respectively, prisoners Nikki Wade and Shell Dockley, and Louisa Jones and Sue O’Neill as officers Helen Stewart and Sylvia Hollamby. 

* ... but there's also some glitz on occasions.

Turning in a particularly fine take on loathsome principal officer Fenner is Kevin Williams.

There’s also some neat old lag-style cameos from log-time Operatic favourites Chris Platt and Jan Bellis.

The stage sets are bang-on from what we know of our grim Victorian nicks, and production values, masterminded by joint producers Tracey Kempster-Jones and Caroline Anthonisz, are extremely high.

Direction is as spot-on as we’ve come to expect from Chrissie Ashworth and choreography – yes, they do dance rather well around G Wing when they're not being abusive or violent – is skilfully guided by Sarah Marshall and Rob Stevens.

Stylish musical direction comes courtesy of Elen Mair Roberts.

Stage management is in the capable hands of Tessa Orton-Jones and sound smoothly done by JB Sound.   

* Bad Girls is on at Llangollen Town Hall from Wednesday May 22 to Saturday May 25 with a matinee on the Saturday afternoon. Tickets are available from:

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