Years on from the success and popularity of shows such as Horrible Histories (still pleasing audiences to this day), the idea of using shows with plenty of music to make education fun, celebrated dramatist Chris Bush and songwriter Miranda Cooper have adapted Kate Pankhurst’s picture book celebrating incredible women for the stage, creating a new girl power musical that both entertains and inspires.
Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World (recently seen at the Edinburgh Fringe after a UK Tour) introduces us to Jade (Kudzai Mangombe), an 11-year-old schoolgirl who is struggling to find her voice and be noticed. During a school trip to the museum, she becomes separated from the group and finds herself in the yet to be opened Gallery of Greatness. There she is met by a multitude of inspiring incredible women from over the years including Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, pilot Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, and Marie Curie to name but a few. Can these amazing women use their stories to help Jade to stand up for herself and ultimately believe in her own abilities?
Kirstie Skivington, Jade Kennedy, Christina Modestou and Renée Lamb play multiple parts each, giving each women from history their own style and flair, switching from playing teachers to playing the women in the gallery and swapping characters multiple times throughout. They bring these amazing women from history to life in a fun and larger than life manner without shying away from the serious topics such as the suffragette movement, the work of Rosa Parks and the fact that for many years the work of women was deemed less important and shadowed by the work of men.
Young star Kudzai Mangombe shines as Jade, torn between wanting to be the good girl her parents want her to be and wanting to stand up for herself both in school and at home. On stage for the entire 1 hour and 20-minute running time, she creates the emotional heart of the show and draws you in with her overall excitement as she meets every inspirational women.
Although talking about women from many years ago, this entire production has a very modern and slick feel, with Emmaline Pankhurst (Skivington) and her suffragettes portrayed wearing purple camouflage army gear with sparkles and Mary Seacole (Lamb, Mary Anning (Modestou) and Marie Curie (Kennedy) celebrated as a gang of neon clad superheroes led by superspy Agent Fifi (Skivington). Large dance numbers involving the whole cast and at times, even the band, there is a party feel throughout and with the songs being so very catchy, it’s surprising how much you learn without even realising it.
The music by Miranda Cooper and Jennifer Devilveo and lyrics by Chris Bush and Miranda Cooper is bright, light, and incredibly catchy, mixing many styles of music and cramming tonnes of facts in. From ‘Quiet Children’, which probably speaks volumes to anyone who has ever worked with kids, to the powerful almost battle cry feel of Pankhurst’s ‘Deeds not Words’ and Frida Kahlo’s festival like ‘World of Colour’, song after song lifts the mood and celebrates girl power. The one slower, softer song ‘Rosa’s Lullaby’ gives a gentler tone in an important moment.
In a show that aims to inspire and educate, Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World excels, not only teaching audiences about these great women put also showing that anyone has the ability to make a change in the world and that women are, even now, still having to fight for their rights with references to women’s rights to their own bodies and modern-day female activists such as Greta. Whilst we currently don’t know what the future is for this production following this Edinburgh Fringe run, we can only hope that it comes back because it is a show that young children, and not just girls, need to see for it will leave them feeling empowered to be themselves and stand up for themselves.