Empowering pop musical Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World stage show, based on the popular children’s book by Suffragette relative Kate Pankhurst, and adapted by Chris Bush (Standing at the Sky’s Edge), comes from one of the producers of Six. At Wales Millennium Centre until January 21.
1. Do you think that the show will appeal to men as well as women – and if so perhaps differently?
Kate: This show celebrates the achievements of women through history but that absolutely doesn’t mean it’s a show just for a female audience! The stories that we glimpse into are human stories of courage, creativity, and joy we can all engage with. They work on many levels and are told in such a joyful, though provoking and surprising way I really do think there is something for a very broad audience in the show. (Plus, if you have any female relatives or friends, I’d suggest it’s something you need to see!)
AND – I defy anyone not to leave humming the shows incredibly catchy tunes and empowering lyrics! (All written by the woman who made Girls Aloud’s greatest pop hits, Miranda Cooper.)
2. How did you come you write the original book and how did it come to be adapted to become this show?
Kate: The idea for the book came from a drawing I made of Amelia Earhart, the first women to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. This sparked a conversation with my agent (we often chat about book ideas) that helped me to join the dots and see an idea was staring me in the face – Amelia Earhart, your family connection to Emmeline Pankhurst … isn’t this a book idea that needs to happen?! I did some research and was shocked to discover at that time nobody had made a book for a younger audience which explored amazing women who shaped the world we live in today – so I decided to make it happen!
The book had been published for a couple of years when I heard from theatre producers Kenny Wax – they said they saw tons of potential for adapting the book for stage. An absolute pinch-me moment and something I never dreamt of when I was making the book!
3. As a writer, do you feel comfortable with artistic licence i.e. being a little creative with history, to get messages across and to make it theatrically entertaining?
Kate: Absolutely! I don’t think we ever need to play with the facts – what these women did and the generations they inspired afterwards speaks for itself. How we tell these stories, for a modern audience, is where we can find interesting ways to tell these stories. When I made the book I used visual devices like maps, and Edwardian newspaper layout, The desk of a World War II secret agent and Anne Frank’s diary.
I won’t give too much away but the show portrays these women in a way you haven’t see before and wouldn’t expect! It is thought provoking, utterly absorbing and at times hilarious!
4. How did you choose the particular women?
Kate: It was tricky! I narrowed down what was a very extensive list by choosing women to make the book as diverse and representative for today’s readers as possible. I chose women who had different talents from activists to artists to scientists. This gave me as broad a range of stories as possible to share with readers.
5. There are plenty of pretty fantastically bad women in history? Can we expect a follow-up?
Kate: Now there is an idea, Fantastically Bad Women! I think it might be interesting to delve into the stories of women who were seen as ‘bad’ and to unpick a little of how much that reputation was down to ideas about how women ‘should’ have been behaving at that time in history. The suffragettes were certainly seen as wild women, talking nonsense by some at the time!
6. How much do you have to accept some people today aren’t very knowledgeable about our history – and that affects the story telling as an author, and were you involved in how they also affected the show?
Kate: I think my main aim with my books was to make these stories accessible to a younger audience. I didn’t know about many of these women before I started my research journey and it’s been such an eye opener learning about their lives. The show has been made in a way that make history feel relevant and real, not like something abstract that happened to distant people years ago. The challenges women faced in the past are still present today – shows like this can help audiences reflect and shape their own future in a positive, joyful way using their talents and ambitions.
The original book ends in the Gallery of Greatness where readers are asked how will you change the world? There are pieces of advice from the Fantastically Great Women in the book to spark ideas about how small things make a big difference. The show really celebrates this message, and I know each time I’ve seen it I feel I sit a little taller in my chair and feel like YES! I can take on the world! That’s what Fantastically Great Women is all about for me – reinforcing the message that we are all Fantastically Great and have the ability to make positive change in our own way.
I’ll leave you with my favourite line from the show ‘Nobody sees the world like you do and that, is fantastic.’