Review: Cruel Intentions – The ’90s Musical, The Other Palace

Playing now at The Other Palace, Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical can’t help but appeal to the 90s kid within

“That little wager of yours? Count me in.”

As an actual child of the 90s for whom the movie Cruel Intentions and particularly its soundtrack was a formative deal (back in the day when you had to commit to buying the CD of course), the prospect of Cruel Intentions the Musical was highly intriguing. Skunk Anansie, Counting Crows and Aimee Mann songs onstage? The stunning electronic balladry of Craig Armstrong and Elizabeth Fraser too?! But then the show’s actual title is Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical and its musical remit spreads right across that whole decade. So whilst a little disappointed, there’s plenty to please the 90s kid in us all.

The show is an adaptation of the 1999 film Cruel Intentions, itself a contemporary teen reimaging of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ esteemed novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Set over a steamy Manhattan summer, perma-horny step-siblings Sebastian Valmont and Kathryn Merteuil decide to up the ante in their games of sex and power as they bet to see he can seduce the virtuous daughter of the new headmaster of their exclusive private school. Their manipulations spread far beyond the classroom too but not even their fabulous wealth can protect them from the unpredictability of the heart (or a banging 90s tune).

With a book written by Roger Kumble (writer and director of the original film), Lindsey Rosin and Jordan Ross, the show makes no apologies for the casual misogyny and homophobic language it throws around, some of which is covered by it being 25 years old now, some of which feels more deeply rooted in something systemically wrong with the world. But once over that hump, Jonathan O’Boyle’s production has a really good time of it with some moments of brilliant camp and perfect marriage to material. The way the show works its way into ‘The Sign’, ‘Wannabe’ or ‘No Scrubs’ for instance is just hilarious.

That wider 90s remit also allows it to acknowledge other cultural touchtones of the decade – ‘Kiss Me’ nods to She’s All That, ‘Iris’ to City of Angels, ‘I Don’t Wanna Wait’ to Dawson’s Creek, ‘Lovefool’ to Romeo + Juliet, ‘N Sync’s iconic choreography to ‘Bye Bye Bye’, there’s 90s Easter Eggs aplenty. And despite my fears, there’s also the inclusion of a couple of songs from the film’s soundtrack which was a pleasant surprise – Placebo’s ‘Every You Every Me’ and the Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ topping and tailing the show perfectly. Sadly though, dropping in the moving ‘Colorblind’ rubs hard against the tone of most everything else.

Daniel Bravo and Verity Thompson (on for Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky) go great guns as Sebastian and Kathryn, powerful voices and punchy physicality impressing throughout. Abbie Budden gets to show off a gorgeous lower register as Annette, their main target although she’s given little help by the script to bring much characterisation, and Rose Galbraith stands out with some great comic timing as the not-quite-as-naïve-as-all-that Cecile. Denise Crowley’s musical direction does a fantastic job in weaving together this wildly disparate score – gotta love a bit of Jewel and Melissa Etheridge in there with all the pop.

It’s been a moment since I saw the film but Polly Sullivan’s costume design does a great job in recreating the casual elegance of those stealth wealth outfits, Gary Lloyd’s choreography has lots of fun evoking the era and Nick Riching’s lighting knows exactly what it is doing with its colour pairings. I may have resisted going along for a dose of Manchester Prep attitude ’til now but there’s something irresistibly fun about Cruel Intentions that makes you reach for your rosary cross and go along for the ride.  

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