“Bad Girls: The Musical” Breaks in to the West End

Rachel’s naked humiliation (she is, we’re reminded, still lactating for the baby that was taken from her) is followed by the evening’s first song, "I Shouldn’t Be Here," in which the inmates introduce themselves:

Shell Dockley: Lifer. Murder. Well, just a bit of torture, really. Didn’t expect the dozy twat to go and die on me.
Crystal Gordon: Shoplifting. But the good book says the Lord helps them who helps themselves, innit?
Denny Blood: Seven years. Arson. It was a rubbish kids’ home anyway!
The two Julies: The oldest profession in the book/Combined/With a sideline in the wallets that we took.

Amanda Posner as Denny Blood:

And, finally, Nikki Wade (played by Caroline Head) struts onto stage for the first time, defiant as ever:

Nobody’s hero
Somebody’s fool
Don’t go mistaking me for
Somebody who’ll —
Ever give a damn
For what they think I am.

In some ways — particularly in regard to its social and political significance — the musical could stop right there.

Just a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square, in an area nearly 100,000 people visit every day, an all-female creative team has the audacity to present a musical with a tough dyke inmate singing a song that argues some women "shouldn’t be here" — shouldn’t be in prison and shouldn’t be taken from their children, their lives disrupted for nonviolent crimes resulting from abuse, desperation and neglect.

"I don’t do scared," Bad Girls inmate Yvonne Atkins famously pronounces, both onstage and in the TV show. The same might be said for the creators of Bad Girls: The Musical, who have the nerve to take mainstream audiences behind the bars of a women’s prison, where they raise important social issues while portraying women of wide-ranging ages, sizes and social classes.

The day after the gala, at a café near the theater, Maureen Chadwick, the musical’s co-writer, and her partner of more than 20 years, Kath Gotts (the composer, lyricist and co-producer), talked at length about the political heart of the show.

Chadwick said their politics begin with their belief that "the majority of women prisoners are not a threat to society. The majority have had abused lives and have insufficient education, and would benefit far more from education and work assistance, which would be a much better use of public money."

Of course, even with this political underpinning, the musical is not, as Helen Stewart might say, an entirely "seeerrious" affair.

"If you were just going to do a piece that was a musical about the state of women’s imprisonment, it would not be a fun night out," said Gotts. "It would be a very dark piece, in a fringe venue. It wouldn’t be on in the West End. We can promote that agenda, but at the same time, it’s not Prison: The Musical, it’s Bad Girls: The Musical, and Bad Girls has always been a mixture of things. It’s entertainment with a little bit of social issues thrown in, and that is its starting point."

For those who want to learn more about how to help female inmates, nonprofits abound, from Stop Prisoner Rape to Women in Prison, and the Bad Girls: The Musical program features insightful articles by a professor of criminology and the director of the U.K.’s Prison Reform Trust. Just don’t expect the musical to be as politically outspoken as its writers or as direct as the essays in the program.

"If someone thinks they’ve had a camp night out and it’s all been jolly good fun, our hope is that they might buy a program and read that on the way home, and it might lead them to think about the show a little differently," said Gotts. "You laugh along the way, and then you get a little slap at the end of it."

The "camp night out" begins shortly after the prisoners leave the stage following their opening number. Jim Fenner, the much-loathed prison officer from the TV series, slithers onstage to sing his first song, "Jailcraft," with his leading lady, a sniveling, hard-hearted and (later) tap-dancing Bodybag:

And if the powers that be
Are just too blind to see
I know a thing or two
I’ll pull a string or two
Take a lesson from me

Fenner and Bodybag are a most loathsome and yet undeniably charming duo, and their self-congratulatory lyrics ("God we’re beautiful," Bodybag sings at one point) drew loud laughs from the audience at the gala, and earned the actors the shared next-to-last bow at the end of the show.

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