Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World: a Fantastically Great Show All Round!

After a year of gallivanting around the country on tour, this fresh, new production makes its penultimate stop in Leeds – just in time for Women’s International Day on 8th March.

Based on the award-winning picture book by Kate Pankhurst (of the Emmeline Pankhurst family) this production promises to inspire people the country over; young and old and every age in between.

Georgia Grant-Anderson

The story follows our heroine, Jade (Georgia Grant-Anderson), as she manages to break away from a class tour around a museum to peak into the new exhibition that has yet to be opened, entitled ‘Gallery of Greatness’. On her secret journey she is amazed to bump into famous female figures such as Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart and Marie Curie…to name just a few!

Georgia Grant-Anderson with Leah Vassell (Amelia Earhart)

The show has been created by some of the biggest names in the industry. The script is written by dramatist Chris Bush, who also wrote Standing at the Sky’s Edge, a Sheffield based production about a housing estate. The production has recently been transferred to the West End following its award-winning reception. Song writer Miranda Cooper provides new material, a prolific writer who has composed for the likes of Girls Aloud and Kylie Minogue, as does Jennifer Decilveo, who has composed for Miley Cyrus herself. On top of that, one of the producers is Kenny Wax, who was responsible for giving us the show-of-the-decade ‘Six’. Indeed, this production is often referred to as ‘the little sister of Six’. Let’s see if the production can hold up to the epic reputation that precedes it…..

Elena Breschi, Leah Vassell, Chloe Hart and Jennifer Caldwell

Simply put….yes, it most certainly can! What a production! There’s nothing quite like going to see a show on Wednesday night after a long day teaching when you’re not 100% sure you have the energy, and being completely blown away. Indeed there were quite a few points when I became quite choked up, not because the story was sad but because I was so overwhelmed with the quality of the show and the empowerment it was projecting. This was one powerful, fast-paced performance with an entire ensemble of extremely talented women. Director Amy Hodge had ensured every single action was sharp and precise, it’s purpose clearly planned out. Nothing was left to chance, meaning it was slick and creative: a visually engaging feast from start to end.

Georgia Grant-Anderson

This was a true ensemble performance, with only the character of Jade being consistently in her role throughout. Played by Georgia Grant-Anderson it was impressive how well she passed as an 11 year old girl, her high pitched, excited characterisation fitting the role precisely. Although she started off a little flat in the first song, she warmed into the role and we felt compassion for her character and admired her energy in the choral songs. It was a memorable slog for a performer who is still early on in her career, changing so quickly from one fast up-beat song to another.

Jennifer Caldwell

The four women who multirole throughout as the ‘Great’ women were absolutely stunning. To be able to swap roles so smoothly, with clear characterisation that made their personalities instantly recognisable, was an impressive skill. Their comedic timing, outstanding voices, perfectly timed dance skills and impressive harmonies really kept the energy alive throughout. Jennifer Caldwell was my particular favourite, her broad Northern accent and no-nonsense character of Emmeline Pankhurst contrasting superbly with the French sassiness of agent Fifi. Indeed, in one scene she swapped between the two roles and back again within a single line!

The band itself was fantastic, being visible throughout the show, elevated above the performers on three separate platforms, giving it the recognition it doesn’t always have in the theatre. Of course, the band, led by Audra Cramer, consisted solely of women, three very talented musicians who played a variety of instruments and were very much a part of the ensemble. At one point the keyboard player, Bronwen Chan, came down on stage and performed an impressive bucket drumming routine with the cast.

Quiet Children

The music too was catchy and varied , impressive considering the pop-style that was at its core. I particularly loved the opening number ‘Quiet Children’, resonating strongly with me both as a teacher and a mother, leaving me crying with laughter in the first few minutes. I particularly liked ‘Mary, Mary & Marie’, the stomping, robotic style reminiscent of Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’, as the audience was educated about fantastic women in history all associated with the name ‘Mary’, several I’m ashamed to say I’d never even heard of. It was all just so clever; educational as well as entertaining.

World of Colour

This concept of education and empowerment was at the heart of the production. There were the obvious female figures that we would expect to see, such as Rosa Parks and Emmeline Pankhurst. In addition, there were some that I, much to my embarrassment, had never heard of: Frida Kahlo, Agent Fifi, Mary Seacole. What I liked was that the women they focused on were not just from England, but also from all over the world, including the Native American Sacagawea. I loved hearing about all their different stories, and although they initially focused on the positive aspects of their lives, Rosa Park’s explained the trials and struggles that each one also faced, too: yes, they were great women, with huge barriers.

Georgia Grant-Anderson and Elena Breschi

I liked the final message that was presented to the young girl on stage: that every woman has the power to make small changes, that no one can change the world on their own, that it is indeed a team effort. Just a small act can cause a rippling effect, such as Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat. There were some messages, such as being willing to break a few rules, that didn’t settle on me well as a teacher, but actually the bigger picture was so much more important that I forgave this feature.

Leah Vassell and Georgia Grant-Anderson

At only 80 minutes long, this is a production that is designed for the younger audience (I’d say about 6+). KS2 & KS3 students especially would engage with this highly visually and multi-disciplined production throughout, being in constant awe of the fast pace, bright colours and cool costume designs. We could tell the era costumes were from but it was mixed with florescent trimmings and canvas trainers: Jane Austen was dressed trendily for the first time in 200 years! This show is designed to empower women, to showcase their role in history which has often been overlooked and overshadowed by the more dominant male voices. However, this shouldn’t just be a show you take your daughters to. All children and adults should see it, because it’s not just women who need to be told how awesome we can be….it’s everyone.

Deeds Not Words

It’s clearly time we wrote women back into history a bit more and this show is a great step towards doing that. With International Women’s Day just around the corner, it’s well worth taking time out for the theatre and taking onboard the uplighting inspiration this show is offering in abundance.

Elena Breschi Sacagawea/Frida Kahlo/Marie Curie/Miss Morris
Jennifer Caldwell Emmeline Pankhurst/Agent Fifi/Miss Johnson
Georgia Grant-Anderson Jade
Chlöe Hart Gertrude Ederle/Jane Austen/Mary Anning/Miss Richards
Leah Vassell Amelia Earhart/Rosa Parks/Mary Seacole/Miss Ashley
Millie Kiss Anne Frank
Summer Priest Swing
Rachel Seirian Swing

28th February – 3rd March Leeds Grand Theatre, 46 New Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6NU

All photography by Pamela Raith Photography. Main image: Deeds Not Words.

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