Touring – reviewed at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Guest reviewer: Martin Gray
With a title like Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World, it’s unsurprising that the first night King’s audience for this touring production was mainly female.
Very young ladies, actually. And it’s great that a show devoted to inspirational women attracted an audience looking for role models. But it would be a shame if boys and men stayed away, because this is a truly terrific show with stories and lessons for everyone. Only the most stubborn male could fail to cheer the women this show salutes, or be lifted by the script, songs and performances.
The fantastically great women in question include Marie Curie, Frida Kahlo, Mary Seacole, Rosa Parks, Emmeline Pankhurst, Jane Austen, Anne Frank and Amelia Earhart, well-known names all. But also in there are Gertrude Ederie, Mary Anning, Sacajawea and Agent Fifi, lesser-known lights who equally deserve to be celebrated.
Based on a children’s picture book by Kate Pankhurst – a distant relative of the Suffragette leader – the piece features a collection of songs spotlighting those heroines of history. It’s also based, I suspect, on the success of Six, the blisteringly good show in which Henry VIII’s six wives have a sing-off… they share a producer in Kenny Wax.
Like Six, Fantastically Great Women is a pacy treat, coming in at a tight 90 minutes with no break. Unlike Six, this isn’t sung-through. The numbers are connected by the journey of Jade, an 11-year-old left alone in a gallery.
Jade is smart, doesn’t make a fuss, follows all the rules, doesn’t demand attention… so of course, she gets ignored. But she’s trying to cope with the aftermath of her parents’ divorce and wonders if she’ll ever amount to anything. She needs a boost.
And that’s what she gets when she finds herself meeting the women feted in the gallery. One by one, they help Jade realise she doesn’t have to accept the limitations anyone might put on her (‘Well-behaved women rarely make history’), and impart life lessons – delightfully catchy ones.
‘Where do you want to go?’ asks Amelia Earhart? What matters are ‘Deeds Not Words’, cries Emmeline Pankhurst. Make ‘A World of Colour’ advises Frida Kahlo.
With Miranda Cooper, who has penned songs for the likes of Girls Aloud and the Sugababes, providing the music, it’s no surprise that the songs are hugely catchy. The music perfectly partners Chris Bush’s words, which are beautifully delivered by the cracking cast.
Jade Kennedy, Reneé Lamb, Kirstie Skivington and Christina Modestou play the Great Women with bags of spirit and even more energy – if audience members aren’t inspired to fly a plane, swim the English Channel or write a novel, they could do worse than follow these gals into showbiz. Because these actors embody the tenacity, the willingness to dream, that’s at the heart of Fantastically…
As for Jade, she’s brought to luminous life by Kudzai Mangombe. Watching the schoolgirl grow as she accepts the resources she has, the potential that’s in her, is, well, inspiring.
While the acting, singing and dancing occurs on stage, above it are fierce musicians Rhiannon Hopkins and Chloe Rianna, alongside musical director Audra Cramer, who pops down at one point to add joyous percussive oomph to a routine.
The choreography of Dannielle ‘Rhimes’ Lecointe is witty, while the costumes of Joanna Scotcher range from historically accurate to perfectly whimsical. Overseeing everything, director Amy Hodge seems to have worked alchemy with her ensemble – the chemistry of the cast is electric.
Notice anything? Pretty much the entire creative team is female. Obviously, there’s been a decision made, but there’s no tokenism, only talent (the few chaps don’t disgrace themselves, either!).
By the time the finale megamix arrives we’ve met some truly fantastic women. This is the truly fantastic show they deserve.
Running time: One hour and 30 minutes (no interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000.
Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World
Tue 26 – Sat 30 Apr 2022
Evenings: 7pm; Fri, Sat mats: 3pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.
Renee Lamb, Eva-Marie Saffrey, Jade Kennedy, Christina Modestou. Pic: Pamela Raith