Based on Book by Kate Pankhurst
Adapted by Chris Bush and Miranda Cooper
Music by Miranda Cooper and Jennifer Decilveo
Directed by Amy Hodge
“Well-behaved women rarely make history.”
Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World is a fresh, new musical based on the award-winning picture book of the same title written by Kate Pankhurst, the descendent of suffragette Emmeline.
Our main character Jade, played by Kudzai Mangombe, is the eleven-year-old girl through whom we meet the great women and themes of the production explored. The production is set in the yet to be opened Gallery of Greatness exhibition at a museum where Jade is literally, and metaphorically, lost. Jade is struggling with the pressures put on young girls to be good, in particular, to be seen but not heard. Mangombe successfully conveys a relatable character struggling to gain the attention of her parents and find her voice in a society which conveys that she should not have one.
To address Jade’s feelings of being lost, three great female explorers are introduced; Renée Lamb’s Amelia Earheart, Jade Kennedy’s Sacagawea and Clarice Julianda’s Gertrude Ederle. These historical role models explain their great journeys, the struggles they faced and the legacy they leave behind.
Kirstie Skivington’s Emmeline Pankhurst is introduced to encourage Jade to regain her voice and stand up for what she believes in. Skivington delivers a high-energy performance of “Deeds not Words” where Mangombe is joining in, highlighting Jade’s acceptance of her message.
To inspire Jade to communicate herself and find her passion, Julianda’s Jane Austen and Kennedy’s Frida Kahlo sing “I Paint My Own Reality”. The “Squad of Super Marys” consisting of Julianda’s fossil hunting Mary Anning, Lamb’s nurse Mary Seacole and Kennedy’s scientist Marie Curie appear alongside Skivington’s Agent Fifi to save the day, highlighting Jade’s continuing lack of self-confidence.
The most impactful and emotive exchange is between Mangombe’s Jade and Lamb’s Rosa Parks as they discuss the continual impact of racism on the lives of many. This production did not shy away from making its stance clear on controversial issues that are still faced today, powerfully addressing the loss of abortion rights in the US and the racism still faced by the BIPOC community.
Throughout the production, great care is taken to highlight each woman, their accomplishments and their continued legacy today. Each encounter that Jade had with the great woman was themed to help Jade on her journey and with her specific struggles, showing purpose and thoughtfulness. The ability of Lamb, Skivington, Julianda and Kennedy to each bring several great women to life and portray them uniquely was impressive.
The performers deliver both high-quality vocals and high-energy choreography and the highlights of both the singing and performance were delivered when all cast members were included.
The staging is dynamic and serves to showcase their live musicians while also allowing for quick costume and character swaps. The costumes are a colourful nod to the great woman that inspired each character while some elements are modernised.
This family-friendly pop musical excels, not simply in performance, staging or writing, but in the crucial lessons, it teaches girls and the harmful societal messaging it attempts to undo. This is an important production for all young (and not so young) women to experience.
Remember – “There is no such thing as an ordinary woman.”
‘An Important Production’
Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World runs at the Pleasance Courtyard until August 28th.
Tickets for which may be obtained here.