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Kate Pankhurst’s hit children’s book ‘Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World’ has been adapted into a pop musical and is playing at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre this week. A descendant of the world-famous suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, Kate’s book celebrates the achievements of women throughout history. It focuses on trailblazing and courageous characters that were prepared to speak up for what they believe in, incite positive change or be a pioneer of their craft.
The musical adaptation provides audiences with an uplifting new production that sheds a light on women’s achievements, without forgetting all of the work we still have to do in the present day to achieve gender equality. Canterbury is the last stop on the show’s UK tour and Tuesday evening was The Marlowe Theatre’s press night. I was kindly invited to review the performance and I could not wait to experience a new show and learn more about the featured women’s lives.
Picture a girl group made up of influential women throughout history and you get the cast of Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World. With six performers covering sixteen parts (including eleven inspirational figures), the company is led by central character Jade (Kudzai Mangombe): a secondary school pupil who gets lost at a museum. Jade always behaves impeccably and never sets a foot wrong, which often leaves her feeling invisible. When none of her teachers notice that she is lost on the school trip to a local museum, she takes a step into the out-of-bounds ‘Gallery of Greatness’. Little does she know, a band of female heroes are waiting on the other side, ready to help her find her way in life. Following the advice of a groundbreaking group of ladies, Jade learns the true meaning of what it takes to change the world over the course of 85 minutes of theatre. Backed by a producer of SIX, it is another fantastic British musical that is inspiring and capturing the attention of young people.
The musical is a colourful celebration of women’s contribution to art, political and cultural change. Instead of constantly criticising and questioning the past, the production highlights the barriers that the women metaphorically tore down. The catchy soundtrack and empowering dialogue educate the audience about moments in history and there are plenty of opportunities for the people to join in with the performance and show their appreciation for these revolutionary women.
Miranda Cooper, Jennifer Decilveo and Chris Bush have penned eight original songs for the production. Each track takes inspiration from the real-life words and life stories of the principal figures, with the most notable being Emmeline Pankhurst’s (Kirstie Skivington) solo number ‘Deeds Not Words’: a reference to the Suffragette slogan. In this song there is plenty of opportunity for the audience to chant along with Emmeline and imagine what it would have been like to contribute to twentieth century political change.
‘Mary, Mary and Marie’ details the lives of nurse Mary Seacole (Renée Lamb), archeologist Mary Anning (Christina Modestou), Nobel Prize winning scientist Marie Curie (Jade Kennedy) and World War II spy Agent Fifi (Kirstie Skivington). This song is extremely clever, using one piece of music to showcase the lives of four totally different women, making them appear as allies despite never having met. The creative team have done such a fantastic job with this musical supergroup of powerful women.
‘World of Colour’ is performed by Frida Kahlo (Jade Kennedy) and she wears a multi-coloured central American-inspired ensemble for the duration of the scene. Twirling around the stage in front of a series of colourful illuminated squares, Frida is in her absolute element singing about the arts and showcasing the vibrant dress. It was such a joyful moment in the production, set to an upbeat track.
Emmeline Pankhurst also wore a glittery military-inspired outfit for ‘Deeds Not Words’. Costume designer Joanna Skotcher really nailed the brief with this one, reflecting the girl power theme of the show and the military ambiance of the song.
Despite being based on a children’s book, Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World* is an empowering production for audiences of all ages. With a mega-talented small cast and a powerful pop soundtrack, you cannot help but cheer along with the performers at the end of the show.
The finale features snippets of the songs performed throughout the musical and the audience are invited to get on their feet and join in. This was a fun touch and made the whole show seem more like a pop concert than a theatrical performance, following a similar structure to crowd pleaser SIX. Two pop musicals for the next generation of theatregoers? How exciting! The production is in Canterbury until Saturday 30th July and tickets can be purchased directly from The Marlowe Theatre’s website. As always, I am very grateful for the opportunity to review the performance.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*Our tickets and programme for Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World were gifted in exchange for a review of the performance.