Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World, MAST Southampton and touring

THE traditional teaching of history has an alarming  imbalance between the sexes – mentions of women are few and far between, almost as though they had no impact on the development of humanity.

In 2016, Kate Pankhurst, a distant relative of the woman who led the move to get the vote for the unenfranchised half of the population, started writing illustrated books about the forgotten women who shaped history. Now the team that created the smash hit Henry VIII musical SIX have got together with writer Chris Bush to create a new show for all the family, and it opened at Southampton’s MAST studio on 6th November prior to a UK tour. So enthusiastic has been the response that several audience members have already returned two and three times.

And it’s not surprising. This is an (almost) all woman  production full of energy, colour, music, invention, and masses of information. Its SIX roots are evident. Here are five singing, dancing actors and three musicians whose job is to introduce historic heroines in the context of Jade’s visit to the museum with her teddy, Bearoncé.

Jade (played on the press night by 15-year old Eva-Marie Saffrey – a former Matilda) is determined to strike out on her own and have adventures, but she has a personal misery to overcome. That’s the story that Chris Bush has devised to give the 75-minute show a narrative arc, as 12 Fantastic Women of the title (and the book series) emerge from their boxes, ready with advice, fun, inspiration, encouragement and, more than anything else, determination. This is the power of positive thinking to the max.

This original company, Jade Kennedy, Renee Lamb, Frances Mayli McCann and Christina Modestou with the four teenagers who alternate the role of Jade, is joined by on-stage musicians Audra Cramer, Nicola T Chang and Abbie Finn, performing on Joanna Scotcher’s  happily versatile set vibrantly lit by Zoe Spurr, and there’s never a dull or still moment.

Songs, by Miranda Cooper and Jennifer Decilveo, are seeded in a wide variety of genres – bad-ass girl band is how the composer describes them.  They have the huge advantage of being tuneful and immediately hummable.

The youngsters in the audience simply couldn’t keep still in their seats as the pounding score, fast-moving stories and ingenious action drew Jade’s story to its hopeful conclusion.

This is a show that will be around for many years, and will probably inspire generations of youngsters to find out more about the FGW who emerge from its boxes, swimming, painting, flying, discovering, researching, spying, writing and pioneering.

It’s on in Southampton until 20th November, and then off to Norwich, Liverpool, Aylesbury and Chichester, with more dates to be announced.

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Photographs by Pamela Raith