Having what seems like a perfect life means everything appears to have fallen into place: she has a nice boyfriend, trusting friends, and most importantly, she's a cheerleader. However, it all comes crashing down once those around her suspect Megan's a lesbian, and she is sent away to complete a conversion course at 'True Directions', where the rehabilitation opened her eyes to a new life (that became far from the one intended).
Based on the 1999 cult classic film of the same name, But I'm A Cheerleader makes for an achingly funny satirical piece about self-discovery and sexuality of which Tania Azevedo does a fantastic job at directing, with each line and movement very well-timed. Although it quite quickly becomes obvious as to why it isn't everyone's cup of tea, and may leave you a little taken aback to begin with if the synopsis is unfamiliar, this show is contemporary and exactly fits the agenda of new theatre. Currently homed in the delightful little Turbine Theatre, the staging is mastered, and while more could've been done with a bigger set, the intimacy gives an extra dimension to draw the audience in entirely. Starting with drapes which soon get torn down to create the various other scenes, but primarily the 'True Directions' centre, enough has been done to encapsulate the storyline using only this space.
With a compelling soundtrack including lyrics devised by Bill Augustin and music by Andrew Abrams, the show begins with Megan, played brilliantly by Alice Croft singing 'Seventeen is Swell' to introduce herself and explaining her unaccompanied perspective of enjoying high school as everything felt ideal in life. Alice is seen to be talented from the outset, and continues to take on her role confidently throughout. We soon meet the rest of her cheerleading squad, including her best friend Kimberly played by Jodie Steele, and boyfriend Jared acted by Edward Chitticks. Her skeptical and devoutly Christian parents (Jodie Jacobs and Oliver Brooks as mum and dad respectively) also make an appearance, before quickly demonstrating the power that the cast have when singing collectively, and additionally show good placement across the stage. While it is clear that there is comedic effect, even within the use of props and bold costumes, the piece displays professionalism which is crucial since the piece often exaggerates and plays on stereotypes, so needs to be done tastefully.
When Megan arrives at 'True Directions', she is greeted by the stern mistress, Mary Brown, played by Tiffany Groves. She appears comfortable in her character, performing with ease, and notably presents this in her highly amusing solo 'Perfect Little World' in act 2. Lemuel Knights bursts into scene as Mike, another leader of the conversion programme, and immediately wows with his amazingly rich vocal tones. Megan feels exasperated at the experience to begin with, particularly when asked to source the root of her sexuality (which was attributed to vegetarianism, among other things) but upon meeting the other students in her group, forms a liking for Graham, a rebellious and grungy character portrayed by the incredible Evie Rose Lane, who has her own struggles, but is certain that the place won't change her, expressing this in her beautiful solo, 'If That’s What It Takes'. Jodie Steele transforms into Hilary- a geeky teacher's pet- and does a great job at transitioning back and forth between her vastly different characters. Edward becomes the ironically camp and expressive Rock, son of Mary, while Larry and Lloyd (a gay couple that are a flamboyant pair) are also taken on by Jacobs and Brooks, to make the double act that execute an escape that introduces Megan to a new world of freedom to love.
'Step 2: Pink and Blue' has a particularly effective use of Martha Godfrey's lighting here, as well as creating a vibrant atmosphere at other points in the show. Other stand out tracks include 'Seeing New Colours', which concludes the first act, and Graham and Megan's sweet ballad in their twinkly hideout, along with 'Graham's Kiss' and the finale 'Cheer' to round up a joyous ending.
But I'm A Cheerleader is high energy, fuelled with fun, and a perfect embodiment of modern theatre. It is ultimately hard to find fault with; it doesn't fear the reception of controversial themes and is conducted hilariously throughout. A cast recording and transfer is a must!