In their only big number, "Every Night," Nikki and Helen share a split-stage, as Nikki sings from her prison bed:
Why does she do this to me?
How did I let her in?
When I know so well — I should beware
And a lonely Helen, played by Laura Rogers, responds from her couch:
Why does she do this to me?
How can I ever win?
And though I tell myself I don’t care
She’s always there …
Nikki and Helen’s physical contact is limited to a touch on the shoulder and a three- or four-second final kiss that the Evening Standard called "discreet"; a reviewer for WhatsOnStage.com somehow missed the lesbian romance entirely and described Nikki and Helen’s relationship as a "burgeoning friendship."
Given their limited stage time, the most subversive aspect of the lesbian relationship between Helen and Nikki is not its intensity or the extent of its exploration but rather the fact their romance contains none of the humor, camp or chorus lines seen in the rest of the musical. Gotts noted that their relationship is, ironically, the only one that is "played straight," and it is intended to be the "coat hanger in the piece that other things are structured around."
Although they’ve received positive feedback from many lesbian fans, Gotts and Chadwick are aware that others may leave the theater feeling shunted aside in much the same way Jones was on her way into the theater.
Regardless of the potential criticism, the women behind the show are sticking to their "subversion by seduction" ways. The musical, like the TV drama, is intended to be a Trojan horse of sorts, sneaking inside the walls of mainstream homes where it can unleash its social and political messages, including that women’s love for each other can be so beautiful and inspiring and profound that it deserves to be cheered.
"I’m less interested in entertaining lesbians than actually thinking that a whole lot of straight people who’ve never thought about it, Mr. and Mrs. Normal, can sit there rooting for that relationship and actually, hopefully, not squirm at the end when Helen and Nikki get together," said Gotts. "I’m much more excited about having a whole load of heterosexual girls coming to see the show and thinking, ‘Oh no, it’s right they got together in the end, I wanted them to be together.’"
Along with being part of the creators’ philosophy, appealing to mainstream audiences is essential for the musical’s financial success. Like its televised predecessor, the musical is independently produced, with a significant portion of the private financing coming from gays and lesbians — what Brits call the "pink pound."
Gotts said the musical, like most, is an "extremely risky investment," one that cannot afford to be in what she called the ghetto of the "little lesbian musical."
Gotts added: "What makes me excited is that the Helen and Nikki story is in the West End, and it’s being enjoyed by an extremely wide audience. Our desire is to subvert the wider audience by including the lesbian story line, rather than it being a musical with a lesbian story line for lesbians."
And so it is that Nikki and Helen’s final kiss is all but forgotten in the midst of Yvonne’s happy ending and Fenner’s final comeuppance, and the actors playing Nikki and Helen exit quietly, sharing not the final bow but one of the last few. That’s why, for many lesbian fans, watching Nikki and Helen take the stage in a major West End production — one that is written, created and financially supported by lesbians — may bring both pride in the achievement and disappointment in the outcome.
Attendance is going up, indicating that mainstream audiences have accepted Nikki and Helen’s romance as one of the musical’s many story lines. But then, acceptance of lesbians as merely part of the show is a victory that’s already been won — on TV, in films and on the stage.
The televised version of Bad Girls was groundbreaking because it dared to push its genre forward, placing a lesbian romance front and center, and sizzling through a slow burn that lasted three satisfying seasons. Like the TV show, the musical seduces mainstream audiences, but it doesn’t challenge them with something new, something more powerful and nuanced than what, in musical history, has already been accomplished in shows like Rent and The Color Purple.
Instead, Bad Girls: The Musical appeals to its mainstream audiences with a bawdy, funny, brash and entertaining show.
It is, in the end, much of what a musical should be — and, in its depiction of Nikki and Helen, far less than it could have been.
For more on Bad Girls: The Musical, visit the official site.