Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World – Review – Leeds Grand Theatre

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By Gail Schuster, February 2024

I first came across Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst, a distant relation of Emmeline Pankhurst, as a children’s book whilst working at a school. I immediately loved it. It is vibrant, attractive, non-fiction and inspiring, so I started encouraging children to read it and it was well-received. Therefore, when I saw there was a musical of the book, I was intrigued to go and see it.

I must admit I did wonder whether it would be aimed at primary school children and perhaps a bit young for other audiences, but this is not the case. The production is suitable for all ages from six upwards and is exhilarating. It won the UK Theatre Award for Best Show for Families and Young Audiences in 2022.

The story has a simple premise where Jade, aged 12, finds herself lost on a school trip to a museum, eventually coming across the out of bounds ‘Hall of Greatness’, where she meets some of history’s inspirational women.

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“Embrace her individuality”

I particularly enjoyed, ‘Where do you want to go?’ which is the first song where the historical characters appear. We are introduced to Amelia Earhart, Gertrude Ederle and Sacagawea. I loved the vibrancy of the costumes, the use of props and the quirky dance moves which made the whole package. At one point Ederle, played by Chlöe Hart, is ‘swimming’ through a slit in a shimmering, blue cloth to represent the English Channel. The bright, single-coloured costumes, by Oscar Morris, work well against the dark background of museum packing cases, above which the musicians sit in boxes edged by neon lights.

There were several other songs I very much appreciated, ‘A World of Colour’, which brought us the familiar figures of Frida Kahlo and Jane Austen. ‘Mary, Mary and Marie’, a catchy number about Mary Anning, Mary Seacole, Marie Curie and Marie Christine Chilver. Fantastically Great, sums up the characters’ message to young Jade that she should embrace her individuality, follow her dreams and be resilient. None of these women set out to make a name for themselves, they just followed their passions and weren’t always recognised in their lifetimes and indeed, in many cases, met ridicule, prejudice and discrimination.

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“A musical for everybody”

The music was composed by Miranda Cooper, who has written for the Sugababes, Girls Aloud, and Pet Shop Boys, and Jennifer Decilveo, whose credits include Bat for Lashes, Rise Against and Christina Perri. Cooper and Chris Bush, named by The Stage, as one of the 100 most influential people in British theatre, wrote the lyrics. Bush and Director, Amy Hodge, also adapted the eponymous book for the stage.

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World takes place in one act of 90 minutes, which feels right, as to put an interval in, would interrupt the pace of the storyline as there is no natural break.

The audience in Leeds was predominantly female, as you might expect from the title of the show, but it is a musical for everybody, regardless of age or gender. It has a feel-good, heart-warming quality about it and was a very lively and uplifting evening out. The performers enjoyed a well-deserved standing ovation at the end.

‘Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World’ is at Leeds Grand Theatre until 3rd March


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