Everybody Loves A Bad Boy: The 5 Best Theatre Villains

Over the years, theatre’s given us some great heroes. Jean Valjean, Oliver Twist, Tracy Turnblad, Mary Poppins, Simba… They come in all shapes and sizes, but one thing heroes have in common is that they always have the audience on their side.

But what about the bad guys? Often they’re just as important to the story, and in a lot of cases, more fun to watch, because where a hero is usually pure goodness, a villain is often an intriguing mix of good and bad. Here are five of my favourites - who are yours?

Javert - Les Miserables
‘Those who falter and those who fall, must pay the price...'
I feel slightly bad including Javert in this list, because even as you hate him for his endless persecution of Jean Valjean, at the same time you have to respect him for staying true to what he sees as the right thing. At the end of the day, he’s a police officer, and Valjean, for all his admirable qualities, is a parole breaker. Stars is probably one of my favourite songs from any musical, because it’s here that you begin to understand Javert’s internal struggle, and he becomes much more than just a one-dimensional bad guy.

Scar - The Lion King
‘Life’s not fair, is it?'
I have a confession to make… I have a bit of a soft spot for Scar. Not that he doesn’t deserve everything he gets; he did murder his brother, after all. But his dry sense of humour and quintessential Britishness (I can only ever hear Jeremy Irons’ voice, no matter who I see in the role) make it hard to really hate him. In The Madness of King Scar, you start to realise that all he really wants is for his subjects to love him - he just has a slightly psychotic way of going about it.

The Phantom - Phantom of the Opera
‘The world showed no compassion to me!’ 
On paper, the Phantom is very much a bad guy. Just take a look at his rap sheet: murder, kidnapping, vandalism, not to mention some serious stalking. But the Phantom is probably one of the most fascinating characters in musical theatre. How much of what he does can be justified by his own suffering? Can the purity of his love for Christine outweigh the terrible things he’s done? Does an ugly face necessarily have to mean an ugly soul? Is the Phantom evil, mad or just a lost child in a grown man’s body? I could go on.

Judas - Jesus Christ Superstar
‘At last, all too well, I can see where we all soon will be...'
Pretty much the ultimate villain. He may not have physically killed anyone, but when you betray the Son of God, that’s a big black mark against your name for eternity. So I’ve always found it interesting that Jesus Christ Superstar is just as much the story of Judas as it is of Jesus, and puts quite a sympathetic spin on his act of betrayal. I don’t want to get into a theological debate, but it’s hard not to feel a little pity for this portrayal of Judas, who - again - is just doing what he thinks is right.

The Woman In Black
‘the purest evil and hatred and loathing'
 I wanted to include one villain who’s just plain evil, if only so I don’t seem like a complete soft touch who’s always determined to find the good in people. The Woman in Black terrifies me; I’m not sure if it’s her appearance, or her silence, or the fact that she takes out her own rage on innocent people. Maybe it’s a combination of all those things. But, dare I say it, even at the root of all this is a mother who lost her child, which is something nobody should ever go through. So maybe I am a soft touch, after all.


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