Cruel Intentions, The Other Palace, 2024
Photo: Pamela Raith
  • Theatre, Musicals
  • Recommended


Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical

4 out of 5 stars

This jukebox musical adaptation of the racy ’90s film is pure nostalgic fun


Time Out says

This musical version of the now-classic 1999 film is a pure blast of nostalgia. But like the original screenplay, it’s sharper and spikier than your average high-school-set, singalong teen drama. That’s because of their shared roots that ’90s/’00s trope of taking the bare bones of plot from a much earlier work. Here, the story maps the deviousness of the fin de siècle Parisian high society depicted in eighteenth-century novel ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’ onto an elite New York private school in the 1990s.

Step siblings from hell, Sebastian Valmont (Daniel Bravo) and Kathryn Merteuil (Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky) treat their classmates as playthings. Kathryn wants revenge on an ex-boyfriend by getting Sebastian to seduce Cecile Caldwell (Rose Galbraith), the girl he dumped her for; Sebastian wants to corrupt Annette Hargrove (Abbie Budden), who’s written about chastity before marriage. Kathryn and he bet on the outcome: she wins, she gets his car; he wins, she’ll sleep with him.

It's a deliciously nasty little conceit which, in the film, spun out into a series of MTV-worthy moments. Here, Roger Kumble, the film’s writer, along with Lindsey Rosin and Jordan Ross, turn it into an opportunity to drop in classic ’90s tunes. Loved ‘Genie in a Bottle’? Broke your heart to ‘Torn’? Sang gleefully along to ‘Only Happy When It Rains’? You’re in luck. They – and more – are all in here, like exploding memories. The effect is a deliciously sly jukebox musical, with the songs sometimes reflecting the characters’ inner thoughts, sure, but also winking at a decade of All The Feelings.

A talented ensemble cast provides a strong backdrop for the show’s terrible twosome. As Kathryn and Sebastian, McCaulsky and Bravo are great – sexy, withering and with just enough messiness to give some extra emotional oomph to the power of their singing. McCaulsky burns a raw anger into a medley of songs that reveal her true feelings about the double standards she’s forced to live by.   

Jonathan O’Boyle’s staging rockets along with confidence, humour and energy, as choreographer Gary Lloyd blends a punchy sense of pastiche into the show’s set-pieces. The sheer swagger carries you through scenes that sometimes distil the narrative into little more than bullet points to set up the next big number (but do keep the bitchiest lines intact). However, the canny song selection also updates the film – for instance, helping to flesh out and continue a gay relationship that was tossed out as a plot device after it had served its purpose.

‘No Scrubs’ is used to ridicule the racism of white Upper East Siders, while Cecile’s sudden launch into ‘The Sign’ after a particularly ‘heated’ moment is laugh-out-loud funny. The songs are puckishly used, giving the storyline a bit of a glow-up for a 2015 audience – when this musical was first performed in America – and now, for its London premiere. (We get extra Spice Girls.) But fun is the priority. This show knows what it is and winningly relishes that.


£25.50-£73.50. Runs 1hr 55min
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