Review: Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World at Liverpool Playhouse ****
SIX meets Bill and Ted meets Night at the Museum in this sparky new show from the producers behind the sassy smash hit that put Henry VIII’s consorts centre stage.
Based on Liverpool-raised author and illustrator Kate Pankhurst’s book of the same name, Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World is an exercise in empowering the next generation to fulfil their potential – and be happy in their own skin as they do it.
And if the lesson from that other youth-learns-from-famous-forebears, Bill and Ted, was ‘be excellent to each other’, the lesson that comes from Fantastically Great Women is ‘be excellent to yourself’ too.
The new show, billed as a 'kickass-pirational’ pop musical has some of the atmosphere of the successful SIX if not quite its tight-as-a-drum shaping; with twice the number of characters, it feels more rangy and sprawling - despite its compact 75-minute run time.
Could 12 kickass role models be too many for fidgety young members of the audience?
The action revolves around 10-year-old Jade (played on press night by Eva-Marie Saffrey), who is hiding among the packing crates in a cordoned off museum exhibition area, the Gallery of Greatness, waiting for closing time so her ‘adventure’ can begin.
In all honesty, the Jade we first meet seems a bit of a brat – but it transpires as the narrative unfolds there’s a story behind her bolshy bravado.
The titular women manifest themselves like feisty fairy godmothers in response to her appeal and offer her adventure, advice, confidence, colour and camaraderie in a series of crisply executed musical numbers, choreographed by Dannielle ‘Rhimes’ Lecointe.
There’s excellent ensemble work from the quartet of actresses who channel the ‘great women’ including Emmeline Pankhurst, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie and record smashing Channel swimmer Trudy Ederle.
Above: Renee Lamb as Amelia Earhart and Eva-Marie Saffrey as Jade. Top: Fantastically Great Women. Photos by Pamela Raith
They include Liverpool’s Renee Lamb who made her professional debut as the original Catherine of Aragon in SIX (performing alongside fellow FGW cast member Christina Modestou).
While here Lamb delivers three really warm and engaging performances – enthusiastic female flying ace Amelia Earhart, pioneering nurse Mary Seacole and a gentle but affecting Rosa Parks, her own trajectory from the ensemble of a Liverpool Empire Stage Experience production of Fame a decade ago to her career today should be inspiring to youngsters in its own right.
As should the achievements of the wider all-women creative team which includes Miranda Cooper (the hugely successful songwriter behind number one hits like Round Round and Sound of the Underground) and Jennifer Decilveo (who penned the Grammy Award-winning Rise Up).
Pankhurst’s Fantastically Great Women are individuals who challenged the patriarchy, and whose determination, persistence and talent means we’re still talking about them today.
But the affirming message from this adaptation by Chris Bush is that each and every girl and woman is also a member of the ‘fantastically great’ club with the potential to leave their own mark, large or small.
Oh, and no one ever changed the world on an empty stomach!