Music & Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Book by Patricia Resnick
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
545 days. That’s how long it’s been since the Edinburgh Playhouse roared with The Lion King’s juggernaut presence, and now it returns to the daily grind. Slapping the alarm clock, taking a few more minutes of rest, the sleeping giant of Edinburgh entertainment awakens its stage for a touch of Southern magic with Dolly Parton’s 9 To 5.
Now – attacking a forty-year-old narrative from the eighties is redundant, and mercifully aspects have been trimmed and altered to give 9 To 5 a touch more nuanced than the original film. Certainly, far from the contemporary rebuttal to the Girl Boss narratives of the nineties and early noughties, Patricia Resnick’s story sees the dream scenario become a reality – becoming your own boss and punishing the patriarchal corporate world (maybe leave the S & M and Hogtying out).
A trio of women, Judy, Violet and Doraleen, take matters into their own hands against the corrupt and patriarchal boys club, a problem which mercifully has left in the eighties… It’s a time of big hair, big phones, big attitudes, and CEO’s have one mindset – affairs and golf. Ah how times have changed. It all comes to a head though, after a smoke and a drink, when one of the women may potentially have killed the boss; consequences are frantic, ridiculous and lead to a series of slapstick scenarios, but there’s still a ripple of lampooning the continued travesty of lower wages for women, the lack of childcare and toxic misogyny at the top of the pile.
Stephanie Chandos, in a rather unsubtle nod to Parton, is the fall-gal, the office floozy, or at least this is the toxic myth perpetuated. Full of heart, dedication and a tight vocal grasp, Chandos may not appear at first to be the principal character, but Doraleen is without question the embodiment of the consequences of judgements, workplace sexual grievances and possesses the tenacity and wit to pull the rug right from under the boys. Measured, she is counterbalanced by the more down-to-earth though no less powerful Vivian Panka as Judy, a young divorcee still cowering beneath male domineering. And where Panka may struggle with the expressive performance, the clarity and measured control of vocals are high and above the expectations of the show.
Iconic, Parton’s musical empire is an enviable bought of country classics but seems to have left a few of her better standings at the door for 9 To 5. The occasional stand-out piece strikes a tremendous chord, and when this happens, the Playhouse erupts in the euphoric energy which has laid dormant for far too long. It’s only a select few which manage this, a chunk of the numbers feeling repetitious and scored with a mundane familiarity. Vocally, Panka and Chandos outshine Louise Redknapp, and where they can usually carry group pieces with ease, once Redknapp flies solo things begin to become ropey.
The struggles are evident in the second act, where we hop on a treadmill of sorts to tidy away all the loose threads and lean into the happily ever after. But there are tremendous merits in the side characters, particularly the show-stealing antagonist and love-sick sidekick Hart Jnr. And Roz. Sean Needham is every sleaze-ball who has said hello to you with his eyes first, yet, good heavens is the prowess and timing of slapstick and vocals an impressive feat of entertainment. Engorging himself in the sliminess of the villain he is, he takes everything on the chin, or indeed, the balls. Met only by the ferocious hungry and sultry putrid adoration which is Julia J. Nagle as Roz. Delightful to watch, selling very moment, with a brilliant physicality incorporating the quick costume changes courtesy of tight choreography.
9 To 5 comprehends its weaker storyline, and fills in the cracks with exceptional vocal work and takes a persistent stance to fight for the change long, long overdue. It recognises that silence is as harmful as active resistance to equality and that corporations and governments adore nothing more than sticking with the status quo. This cast has a fire in their belly, a desire to push for alterations to the world, and the very fact it takes an eighties comedy to continually remind us of our shortcomings is as disturbing as Hart’s evening activities.
With additional praise towards the Playhouse staff, who demonstrate an eagerness to be back and adhere to both social distancing protocols and the checking of vaccination passports with ease, streamlined and maintaining atmosphere – 9 to 5 is as safe as possible, and organised to the highest level.
It’s what people needed, and there is no finer back to work cure than the roars and cheers of an Edinburgh audience, known for their quite resolute, revelling in the kitsch joys of the one thing we universally hate – office hours. 9 To 5 is a reminder of the enjoyment, scale and sensational spectacle musical theatre offers to those in need of a reason to laugh, to sing, to dance and of course, to drink.
9 To 5 runs at The Edinburgh Playhouse until September 18th, tickets are available here.