‘Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World’ (Edinburgh King’s Theatre) | Review by Rhona Williams

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World (dir. Amy Hodge) had its Edinburgh debut at The King’s Theatre last night, and it was an utterly stunning piece of musical theatre. The new musical is an adaptation of Kate Pankhurst’s children’s book of the same title, that beautifully illustrates the importance of women throughout history that have shaped our world for the better.  

The narrative follows a young, self-doubting teenager, Jade (Kudzai Mangombe), who feels forgotten and left behind (not only on the museum school trip that she’s on, but in everyday life). When Jade stumbles into a closed off section of the museum, a series of historical and brilliant women come to life to tell Jade (and the audience) their stories, through toe-tapping tunes and sassy, informative and satirical dialogue. These absolutely fantastic and inspiring ladies beautifully act as godmothers or spirit guides for Jade as she takes her first steps into a feminist stance. These icons of history were played strikingly by Jade Kennedy who portrayed Sacagawea, Frida Kahlo and Marie Curie; Renée Lamb who played Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks and Mary Seacole; Christina Modestou who embodied Gertrude Ederle, Jane Austen and Mary Anning; and Kirstie Skivington who took on the role of Emmeline Pankhurst and Angent Fifi.  

Within 10 minutes of the show starting, I realised that this is a production that every woman should endeavour to see, no matter what age they are. The exclusively female and diverse cast and band were electric in creating the narrative of women using their voices to be loud, proud and heard. The music was quirky and playful with melting pot of different genres and styles that was excellent in differentiating the tone and allowing for moments of hilarity alongside stillness and points that were genuinely moving. Although the music was extremely fun, factual and catchy, there were moments that the singing was almost too raw and could have benefitted from a slight re-work at some points – yet the lyrics were so clever and poignant that it made up for moments of slight pitchiness.   

Joanna Scotcher’s set and costume design on this performance was visually stunning, and the depiction of these fantastically great woman was extraordinarily clever as each of them adopted a block coloured, representational costume of their time that signified their persona and allowed for them to be instantly recognisable. The set and costumes together offered us a colour sensation and continued to create this world of joy, celebration and hope.  

Diversity was not only represented in the cast and content of the musical, but also in the heritage of the women that they chose to represent; we watched in splendour as the cast celebrated women of Jamaican, Polish, French, American, German, British and Dutch descent.  

Fantastically Great Women reminded me of a harmonious blend of Six and Matilda through its sheer message of empowerment, through a youthful, silly, and fun lens. We were reminded that there is no such thing as an ordinary woman, and that even though not every story has a happy ending – we, as women must take the reins of our own life and show the world what we can achieve. This play by no means was an attack on men, but instead a celebration and festival of femininity and strength. We were reminded that “we can endure so much more than we think we can”.  

I sat in a pool of my own tears as the show came to a powerful end, not out of sadness but genuine pride and respect for my metaphorical sisters that have sculpted the world we live in. I previously mentioned that women need to see this show, but upon more reflection, every person (regardless of gender identify and expression) would take messages away from this performance. It was a joy to watch and I’m excited to see it develop further in the future. Now, don’t forget that well behaved women rarely make history.  

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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