Crush (Theatre Royal, Brighton)

Crush (Theatre Royal, Brighton, until Saturday, September 26th)

Lashings of fun and jolly hockey sticks are firmly on the curriculum in the musical schoolgirl romp, Crush, making a stop at Brighton as part of a three-venue tour – but which will surely go further, even into the hallowed realms of becoming a cult classic.

With tongue firmly in cheek and drawing inspiration from treasures such as St Trinian’s, Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and the pages of Bunty comic this brand new musical – with book by Maureen Chadwick of Bad Girls, Footballers’Wives and Waterloo Road TV fame and a catchy score by Kath Gotts – is a small show with big ambition and has plenty going for it.

The first night audience might have been relatively small – but there’s time for word to get around and for people to cause a box office stampede when they discover precisely what they are missing.

There’s certainly some serious stuff: the Dame Dorothea Dosserdale School for Girls in 1963 represents all that is good in providing the sort of progressive education where pupils from all classes and backgrounds can be encouraged to achieve and realise their full potential in all subjects and in life. That is until a new Dickensian headmistress is employed who makes Miss Trunchbull, Miss Minchin and Dolores Umbridge look positively angelic in comparison. The plot also dares to explore awakening sexuality and makes points about valuing the individual.

But the production is one of those audience-pleasing , charming and refreshing works that one imagines might – if supported and encouraged enough – achieve the sort of status afforded oaks from acorns such as The Rocky Horror Show and Little Shop of Horrors.

Director Anna Linstrum recognises this is a different sort of caper to Daisy Pulls It Off, for example, but understands the sheer fun involved in sidling up to the contrived, gently tittering at the genre (there are plenty of cries of “Gasp!” from the girls at dramatic moments), slipping into the surreal and veering between the sweetly sentimental and the out and out showstopper.

All this is greatly assisted by some stand-out performances. In fact there isn’t a single weak link, which is a delight in itself, but it would be criminal not to acknowledge in particular the sensational Rosemary Ashe as the unpleasant Miss Bleacher (whose vision is to prime The Future Mothers of the Future Sons of England) from her prim Utopianism to her Shirley Bassey-style finale I Ask for Nothing; the lovely Sara Crowe as the more girl-friendly and likeable Miss Austin; and Stephanie Clift as Susan, with her initial crush on the rich divaesque Camilla (a perfect Charlotte Miranda-Smith) developing into a mature self-awareness.

High praise too for Georgia Oldman’s swotty and sneaky Brenda, Brianna Ogunbawo’s soulful Daimler, Kirsty Malpass as Miss Givings the new PE teacher who may just be a fairy godmother, and James Meunier as Dorian, who in a weird and wonderful dream sequence becomes a dinner-suited, golden-haired Marlene Dietrich singing about Sugar Und Spice.

Helped by David Farley’s impressive set the first half is a two-dimensional nod to the educational establishments seen in Girls’ Own, while the second half opens out into the colour of Swinging Sixties London. Even the band, ably directed by Helen Ireland, is a part of the action – whether it be the traditional furniture of the school assembly or the more sleazy underground capital city club.

On first hearing, many of the 20 new songs remain firmly in the mind: Navy Knicks is a full-on tap dance number with amazing choreography by Richard Roe; there’s the heart-wrenching What Good is Life?; and the bluesy What If? – indeed, there’s not one dud song in the show.

Enthusiastic first-nighters and contented critics aren’t enough to ensure a show’s success; but word of mouth can do much for its fortunes in the short and longer-term – so get along to see this while you can and gossip about why it deserves an A+ or outstanding mark so that it can truly pass the test.

David Guest