Review | Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World at Chichester Festival Theatre: 'Overacted, oversung, over the top'

It should have been a giveaway from the title.

Thursday, 13th January 2022, 9:41 am

There’s no way to read it without picturing a wide-eyed young thesp with a rictus grin enunciating every word like their drama GCSE depends on it.

Yet here I was, naively taking my seat for what I thought would be a sequel of sorts to the smash hit musical Six.

With the same production team behind both, this does follow a similar formula.

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Fantastically Great Women is at Chichester Festival Theatre, January 2022. Frances Mayli McCann and cast. Picture by Pamela Raith

It’s a one-act show featuring a series of historical figures who sing pop songs, in this case penned by one half of Xenomania: writers for Girls Aloud, Sugababes, Kylie and more.

But whereas Six felt like a pop concert, Women quickly resembled a primary school history lesson – which I would have known had I done a little digging beforehand, as the show is an adaptation of a children’s picture book.

The lead character, 10-year-old Jade, hides in a museum during a school trip in an attempt to save her parents’ marriage.

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Fantastically Great Women is at Chichester Festival Theatre, January 2022. From left: Jade Kennedy, Frances Mayli McCann, Eva Marie Saffrey. Picture by Pamela Raith

Soon enough the exhibitions come to life and she encounters a parade of famous women throughout history, including Amelia Earhart, Emmeline Pankhurst, Rosa Parks, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie and Jane Austen, to name a few, who each have a lesson to impart via the medium of song.

If I could use one word to describe the result, it’s earnest.

Everything is overacted, oversung, over the top – and the plot becomes incredibly repetitive.

By the time Rosa Parks and Anne Frank start singing a ballad about changing the world, I was wondering if it could get any more silly. (Bear in mind, this is after Jane Austen was played with a Welsh accent.)

But then the finale delivered the pinnacle of unintentional hilarity – when the letters of great are rearranged to spell ‘Greta’ timed to a lyric about the environment.

Not even Mr G from Summer Heights High could dream this stuff up.

That being said, all of these qualities I’m criticising point to what would probably make it a brilliant show for kids.

It’s educational, energetic, and the actor playing Jade did a fantastic job of carrying the show, landing some big laughs.

And while it wasn’t for me – nor a couple in the front row, who left after about 20 minutes – it clearly had won over many of the audience judging by the spattering of standing ovations at the end.

Yes, it made me feel old, but at least I now know which woman first swam the English Channel… and we were spared Malala doing a tap routine.

Until January 16.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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