Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World – Pamela Raith Photography
Venue: Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
Performance Date: 05 January 2022
Reviewer: Gemma Fincher
Star Rating: ★★★1/2
Original new musicals are always welcome in a world saturated with reimagined and reworked classics. It’s rather timely then, that in a time when diversity and equality are being (rightly) scrutinised, a female-led story of female empowerment comes along in the form of Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World. This one-act musical is a poptastic, high-tempo celebration of some of the most notable and influential women in history, including Jane Austen, Marie Curie and Amelia Earhart (to name a few).
The plot centres around 10-year-old Jade, a mischievous Year 6 student, longing for adventure. On a school trip to a local gallery, she gives her teacher the slip and, along with her teddy Bearoncé, hides out in the out-of-bounds Gallery of Greatness. Here, through a series of fantasy encounters, she is guided by some of the most formidable women in history.
The show is based on the picture book by Kate Pankhurst and is produced by Kenny Wax, who many will know produced a little-known show by the name of SIX the Musical. Whilst this show has bags of potential and a wonderful message, it likely won’t reach the phenomenal success realised by the Queens.
Like SIX, the show features an all-female cast and band. The role of Jade is being played by a rotating cast of young actors and is played by Fayth Ifil on the Waterside press night. She is a pocket rocket of a performer and leads the show with wonderful confidence and absolutely no fear. She perfectly embodies the angst of a child living in a challenging home environment and the perils that come with it. Stressed out by her parent’s obvious and imminent divorce, she struggles to make sense of her place in the world and how she can influence what is happening to her.
The core cast of Jade Kennedy, Christina Modestou, Renee Lamb, and Shakira Simpson are joyous as they switch between multiple roles. Some of the Fantastically Great Women are more well known than others, and unfortunately, this is where the weaknesses of the piece come to the fore. The introductions to the women feel fractured at times, and there doesn’t seem to be a sufficient or succinct explanation of what exactly makes them Fantastically Great. Some work better than others, in fact, the moments where Jade is alone with one Fantastically Great woman feel more authentic and rounded than when several share the stage at once.
The musical numbers are also somewhat hit-and-miss. Shakira Simpson as suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst delivers the belting anthem Deeds Not Words. This number is a definite earworm and pulsates girl power as it pumps out Pankhurst’s famous motto and the need for change. The closing number Fantastically Great is also strong and probably the best of the piece. It’s a fabulous, high-tempo, and upbeat end to proceedings.
Jade Kennedy’s Frida Kahlo delivers another strong number with the percussion-heavy A World of Colour where the cast, and wonderfully vibrant percussionist Nicola T. Chang drum on just about everything that they can find. The number is positively Stomp-esque which is no wonder given Chang’s pedigree in that particular show, her enthusiasm is infectious.
Where things slightly falter is Lullaby Little Girl, which (although beautifully sung by Renée Lamb) feels somewhat out of place. Especially given that Lamb’s Rosa Parks sings it to Anne Frank. This seems an odd stylistic choice and doesn’t fit with the rest of the show’s style and flow. There are also moments where the cast’s diction could do with being a bit clearer, as some lyrics become indistinguishable, which is a shame.
The show has oodles of potential, it is brand new, and it’s at the very beginning of its first tour. It’s a perfect show for all ages and provides just the right mix of education, theatricality, music, and quality performances. The cast is incredibly strong, and the talented musicians are joyous. This show will undoubtedly inspire you to look up some if not all these incredible women when you get home. It’s also a timely reminder that there is much to be done to ensure true diversity and equality.
Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World is an enjoyable 70 minutes of theatre. It will be interesting to see how this show grows and evolves.
Runs until: Saturday 08 January 2022