THEATRE REVIEW: Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World at Theatre Royal Stratford East

By Neil Durham

WORTH A LOOK?: *****

WHEN?: Saturday 18 June (matinee), running to 17 July 2022 RUNTIME: 85 minutes (no interval)

11-year-old schoolgirl Jade gets lost in a museum on a school trip and stumbles across a secret Gallery of Greatness where she encounters the titular Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World.

  • Read on for reasons including how songwriter Miranda Cooper has co-written number 1s for Sugababes and Girls Aloud

Based on Kate Pankhurst’s Fantastically Great Women picture books, the vibe here is essentially young adult but like the similarly themed Heartstopper, arguably 2022’s best TV series, this is so good it effortlessly pole vaults from its genre to touch all hearts.

In a week when SIX, now at the Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End, won 2 Tonys, Fantastically similarly draws on the power of girl groups to convey its message of empowering its pre-teen heroine and inspiring her with the bold stories of those trailblazing women who have gone before her.

Music and lyrics are by Miranda Cooper who has co-written 2 number ones each by Sugababes and Girls Aloud – Round Round, Hole In The Head, Sound Of The Underground and The Promise – and her magic touch is once again in evidence here with these 9 original songs which drop on music platforms on Tuesday 21 June.

Two of the original off West End cast of SIX are in this show: Renee Lamb (Be More Chill, Shaftesbury Theatre) and Christina Modestou (Little Shop Of Horrors, Regents Park Open Air Theatre).

The show’s opening made us think of Matilda The Musical as 4 struggling teachers take their pupils on a trip to the museum and hope for Quiet Children.

11-year-old heroine Jade, played with real heart by Kudzai Mangombe, is far from quiet and is a real multi-tasker and problem solver who wants to save her parents’ marriage but doesn’t know how.

Along the way she gets some sage advice from a dozen inspiring women from history including Rosa Parks, Emmeline Pankhurst, a distant relative of the original book’s author Kate, and Frida Kahlo.

There’s an especially heartwrenching moment when Anne Frank leaves the stage and Rosa Parks observes that not all of these stories end happily and we can hear muffled sobs all around us as the predominantly young audience are fully absorbed and not shy in expressing their emotions in the drama of what they are witnessing.

We were reminded of the Sugababes by the Emmeline Pankhurst rap Deeds Not Words, and Girls Aloud seem to be a touchstone for both the Frida Kahlo-fronted tropical joy of A World Of Colour and fun 80s electro pop of Mary, Mary and Marie featuring Marys Seacole and Anning and Marie Curie.

Musicians Audra Cramer, Nicola T. Chang and Chloe Rianna feature on an inventive stage and we enjoyed Chang’s scene-stealing moment as she took centre stage for a very Stomp-inspired let there be drums moment.

Fantastically is currently in east London and finishes its UK tour in Canterbury in July. We think it’s good enough to transfer to the West End afterwards and would love to see this cast continue with it.

Kirstie Skivington (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Sheffield Crucible) is particularly strong as Pankhurst, we thought Modestou very funny, Lamb always sings her socks off and Jade Kennedy was very good especially as Kahlo.

But, aptly for a musical, it’s the songs that you’ll be singing long after you’ve seen this show we think and the decision to drop them on music platforms next week is a wise one because it’s an easy way to transfer strong word-of-mouth recommendation of this show to bums on seats.

We weren’t sure what we’d think of this new musical when we sat down in our seat for it but we absolutely loved it and couldn’t recommend it more highly. Fantastically Great? Most definitely.

  • Pictures via Facebook courtesy Theatre Royal Stratford East Tickets
  • Have you heard any of these songs or seen any of these shows? Let us know what you thought in the comments below
  • Enjoyed this review? Follow monstagigz on Twitter @NeilDurham, email and check us out on Instagram and Facebook

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