Adaptation: Chris Bush
Lyrics: Chris Bush and Miranda Cooper
Music: Miranda Cooper and Jennifer DeCilveo
Director: Amy Hodge
Anne Frank, Joan of Arc, Malala Yousafzai, Emeline Pankhurst, Rosa Parks, and Miss Piggy: Women you have heard of who have changed the world.
Martha Gellhorn, Alexandra David-Néel, Bobby Gibb, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, and Rosalind Franklin: Women who you may not have heard of who have changed the world.
Time to change that.
Left behind by her school on a museum field trip, Jade (Kudzai Mangombe) feels a sense of loss – magnified by her parent’s divorce, nothing seems to be going right for her, and amongst the sea of noise and chatter, her voice is subdued and drowned. But there will always be those who listen, we just may not recognise them yet. Transfixed by the idols surrounding her, transported to a realm of pop attitude and neon lights, Jade finds the East Gallery has become home to some of the history’s most influential women, who have a thing or two to say.
Certainly, indulging in the pop factor, Chris Bush & Miranda Cooper’s lyrical composition at first strikes fears of a homogenous tune throughout as Cooper and Jennifer DeCilveo’s backends into each number, gradually the production bares its teeth to cut a wider net of musical talents. Where Bush and Cooper’s lyrics spark the flames of future pioneers and creatives; chiefly through Emeline Pankhurst’s Deeds Not Words or the show’s standout piece, performed strikingly by Jade Kennedy’s Frida Kahlo – A World Made of Colour, a visual explosion of Joanna Scotcher’s set and costume design.
If you’re able, crane your neck on high and watch the genuine magic behind the score; the ferocious and skilled musicians Rhiannon Hopkins, Chloe Rianna, and musical director Audra Cramer all provide a plethora of percussive and even a killer keytar solo – Cramer even dropping down into the action occasionally to provide a more direct connection with the audience and additional oomph.
But the acceleration of the score extends to the pacing somewhat – designed as a single act show to ensure the little ones don’t become too fidgety, Fantastically Great Women struggles in balancing the snippet biographies of these women to their fullest – understandable given the target audience, but there’s a richness and diverse nature to many of these scientists and activists which are generalised and left by the wayside.
From one pantheon of Her-story the next, Six alumni Renée Lamb ditches her crown to instead strap on a medic’s pinny, aviation goggles and a humble hat and bus seat. From the more reserved determination of Rosa Parks to a bombastically energetic showstopper as our first spin through history as Amelia Earhart, Lamb nails the distinct nature of the show. Sharing this extraordinary sense of character are fellow performers Kirstie Skivington as author Kate Pankhurst’s distant relative Emmeline and super-spy FiFi and Christina Modestou, who has the pleasure of performing Jane Austen, Mary Anning, and on occasion (though not this evening) the tender part of Anne Frank.
Jade, your mother, auntie, sister, niece, friend, partner: Women who continue to change the world. Bush’s adaption of Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World may not transition fully to the stage without a hiccup, but for what it may lose along the way, it makes up for with a terrific mantra which seeds in the heart of the production; no voice is too soft, no action too small. For young women (and equally, young men, and it’s encouraged to bring them), this show will burrow into their minds and channel its rhythm into their bodies to continue marching forward for progress – unperturbed, un-phased, and unconquerable – the precise tale every kid should hear growing up.
Runs until 30 April 2022 | Image: Pamela Raith