The play is based on the well-known book titled “Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World” – which is, by the way, one of my sister’s favourite books ever. So when I heard that there’s a new show based on the book and it’s going to tour the UK, I knew I had to get tickets for me and my her to watch it!
Btw, this little post is also dedicated as a whole to my little sis Maja, who is absolutely fantastically great – she works with special educational needs children, and takes care of kids that even parents sometimes can’t spend too much time with (because it’s super difficult mentally and physically) – and she does it all with smile and energy. She’s also great at first aid help – and whenever she sees someone in need on the street, she jumps right to it – once she even helped a lady who fainted on a bus on the way to the airport, and stayed with her till the ambulance came and missed her flight because of it. She’s awesome. Hope you all have an inspiring woman in your life like her!
Fantastically Great Women – a younger sis of “Six”? Maybe!
Knowing the book – which is a collection of biographies of remarkable females throughout history – I was wondering, what kind of hack could be used to make the play seem interesting as a whole. Anyone would struggle to make a show based on, for example, a section of Wikipedia, even the most exciting one!
Luckily, the writer came up with a way to craft a story that connects all the little pieces of the play and various stories. The show starts as Jade (played by Kudzai Mangombe), an 11-year-old student, gets lost during a school trip to the museum. While she walks around, she also tries to solve lots of her current issues, like her parents’ divorce and feeling not properly heard by family and friends. The whole teenage girl language and problems are portrayed exquisitely – they feel real and not overplayed one bit. Jade enters a closed public part of the museum – a wing that hosts an exhibition about Fantastically Great Women. And one by one, she encounters live “avatars” of women who shaped history (or herstory).
That’s where you get the full-blown “girl power” feel of the play, and where Jade receives some valuable and inspiring words from the characters she meets. With a strong feminist vibe and a set of original, catchy songs, some describe it as “Six’s younger sis” – and there’s some truth in it. It’s a show designed for a younger audience – but both me and my sis (we’re in our 30s), enjoyed it a lot. Yes, some jokes are a little bit too silly at times and some costumes feel like out of panto, but the whole vibe is still thoroughly entertaining.
Feel the Girl-Power Beat
One of the strongest points of “Fantastically Great Women” are the songs. Written by Miranda Cooper, who’s behind hits of Girls Aloud and Kylie Minogue, and Jennifer Decilveo (Miley Cirus, Beth Ditto), it has this proper girlband vibe throughout. My favourites, being “In the world of colour” (Frida Kahlo’s song) and “Deeds, not words” (Emmeline Pankhurst’s anthem), will stay with me for a long time. Especially after the release of the studio album which is supposed to happen very soon (can’t wait).
Music is performed live by an all-female band of 3, beautifully exposed on top of the stage – so glad that the staging lets the music artists shine and be visible too! Nicola T Chang, who’s fabulous on the percussion, gives a great drum solo on the stage while interacting with the actors, and that’s my number 1 moment of the show – showing pure joy of all involved, with lots of energy, and whole audience clapping and stomping to the rythm.
Small yet mighty cast of powerful women
The show is performed by 5 actresses and 3 musicians – plus a short yet sweet appearance by the girl who plays Anne Frank – couldn’t find her name on the website, unfortunately.
It’s not easy to “own the stage” at Stratford with a small cast – but it’s a success in case of “Fantastically Great Women”. The staging – which is firstly covered by a curtain showcasing a museum interior, soon reveals a nice neon-powered stage with lots of elements that open and conveniently hide cast members or props inside.
For the final number (“Fantastically Great”), cast pulls on the stage a set of letters that form words related to the play, and it was splendid to see “Greta” as one of them! Such a simple way to get people in the audience excited 🙂
The cast portrays an array of important historical figures – from Sacagawea, Amelia Earhart, to Maria Sklodowska Curie (props for pronouncing her Polish surname on the stage, as a Pole myself I appreciate it a lot!) and Mary Seacole. Each of them gets her own moment in the show, and a minute to chat with Jade and help her work though her problems. The women appear in sets of themed “special brigades”: there’s a scientific group, a group that helps people and a sport and exploration one. So even if you are very familiar with a particular set of characters, there’s always a chance you might find out something about a women you haven previously not heard much about, in just about 10 minutes. Nicely written, I have to say!
A show for (almost) everyone
I have to applaud the inclusiveness of the show and its possibility to cater to different audiences. Most important bio-information is sometimes repeated in various ways, and names of heroines are shown also written on props (for those who prefer to read something to remember it better). I haven’t realised but my sis pointed out that some of the choreography included signs from Makaton – a simplified version of sign language, commonly used with kids that are too young to learn SN yet. The idea to make the main hero of the story a teenage girl is also brilliant – I’m sure it resonated with the main target audience of the show.
“Fantastically Great Women” is a show that you should definitely see with your younger sister, brother, cousin, or children. It’s not a panto, it won’t make you cringe, but on the opposite – you might find yourself shouting “Deeds not Words” with the rest of the audience! The play is a beautiful way to start a post-show conversation about the heroines of the show, the importance of gender equality – and maybe also about the best girl bands in history? Whatever it will be, the show is a huge conversation starter. And in the world of TikTok and youtube videos, and oldschool conversation like this holds a value!
Directed by: Amy Hodge
Lyrics by: Chris Bush and Miranda Cooper
Music by: Miranda Cooper and Jennifer Decilveo
Cast: Kudzai Mangombe, Renee Lamb, Christina Modestou, Jade Kennedy, Kristie Skivington
Ticket price: £10++
Wed 15 June – Sun 17 July
The production then tours Canterbury and Edinburgh
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