The Other Palace, London, until April 14
Genuine stardom is a strange, indefinable quality that is randomly and sometimes perversely bestowed. It has nothing to do with hard work, good looks or years spent in drama school, but, when you see it, it’s obvious, and, on a stage or screen, it’s difficult to take your eyes off it.
It was perhaps the last thing I’d expected to encounter at Cruel Intentions. It’s a sexy, sassy high school musical inspired by the 1999 film of the same name that was, in turn, inspired by Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The production is deftly directed by Jonathan O’Boyle and boasts an unusually accomplished and dynamic young cast. They breathe life into a range of over-privileged, self-obsessed teenagers as they go about the business of courtship and conniving against each other.
The script and lyrics by Jordan Ross, Lindsey Rosin and Roger Kumble are sufficiently witty and sophisticated to appeal to young, middle-aged and elderly punters alike. The central storyline involves Kathryn (Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky) telling the arrogant school stud Sebastian (Daniel Bravo) that he can only have her if he accepts the challenge of first seducing their headmaster’s prim and chaste daughter Annette (Abbie Burden).
Sebastian goes about his mission with single-minded determination, even blackmailing a baseball player (Barney Wilkinson) over his secret gay lover (Josh Barnett) so he will say nice things about him to Annette. There are numerous jaunty sub-plots and complications along the way, but Bravo is soon dominating the stage and turning this rather ridiculous comic book baddie into a figure of unfathomable Mephistophelian menace.
It seems an extraordinary thing to write of a performance in a high school musical, but I saw at least something of Laurence Olivier’s panther-like Othello in his performance. Maybe it was in his eyes, the animalistic way he prowled the stage or the callous way he treated the women as his prey.
It is in any event acting of a startlingly high order – bold, imaginative and impossible to ignore – and at the end, as he took his curtain call, the standing ovation and thunderous applause made me realise I wasn’t alone in thinking a star had been born.