Bad Girls: The Musical, Garrick Theatre, London

The cult television series comes to the West End
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The Independent Culture

Is it just me, or is there something inherently camp in the theatrical presentation of an all-female institution? There are the nunneries in The Sound of Music and Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites, or the the girls' schools in Daisy Pulls it Off and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. All of them have a built-in wink of camp complicity. And need I mention Lily Savage in the stage version of Prisoner Cell Block H?

Well, yes I do, actually, because we now have Bad Girls: The Musical, an adaptation of the cult television series set in a women's prison. Discouraging any notion that sexism lies at the bottom of this syndrome – sorry, sub-genre – the main creative team on the project, which started life at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in June 2006, is all female: music and lyrics by Kath Gotts, book by Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus, and direction by Maggie Norris.

It's certainly hard to resist a musical where sex-starved inmates join in a lusty chorus of raunchy desire: "We're all banged up without a bang... This little chassis could use a full-front prang". Who could fail to have a soft spot for dialogue of a calibre roundly demonstrated when the rotten old female guard (Helen Fraser) tells a colleague that "My Bobby's doing his braised meatballs tonight"?

And then there's the naughty aspects. A dreamboat of swashbuckling swagger in her red leather coat, tight trousers and knee-length boots, Sally Dexter's splendid Yvonne, with her philosophy that "if we can't get out for a party, the party comes here to us!", would bring out the lesbian in any man.

Yet, the piece as a whole is unsatisfactory. The central conflict is between the new lesbian governor and the corrupt screw, Jim Fenner (David Burt), who treats the prisoners to his "special attention" and drives a young girl to suicide, causing a riot and a strike. Meanwhile, love is budding between the female governor and the luscious Nikki Wade (Caroline Head), who's been unjustly banged for killing the copper who was raping her girlfriend.

The trouble is that the tone is wildly inconsistent: spoof Broadway razzle-dazzle cheek-by-jowl with unbelievably banal romantic ballads; the tongue-in-cheek smack up against the hand-on-heart. Although the ghastly Jim has one good sleazy song of smug sexual opportunism, for the most part the sinister side of this material remains banged up.

Booking to 1 March 2008 (0870 890 1104)