If you were the curator of a new museum exhibition that celebrated the lives of great women, who would you include? Aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart? Record-smashing swimmer Gertrude Ederle? Legendary suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst?
All of these and more are on-hand to share some words of wisdom in Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, Chris Bush’s musical adaption of the picture book by Kate Pankhurst, a distant relation of Emmeline.
In it, we join Jade (Rachel Seirian), a schoolgirl on an outing to her local museum, who accidentally finds herself lost and alone in the off-limits Gallery of Greatness.
Concealed within this wing are the aforementioned ‘great women’ and many more who, for reasons that weren’t particularly clear to this reviewer, are alive and kicking and ready to dish out some inspirational life lessons to our young protagonist.
A fast-moving musical with a compact cast that quickly switch from role to role, the action takes place on a minimalist set of illuminated boxes that utilise different coloured lights to swiftly move between scenes and scenarios. These include taking to the air with Earhart, a rousing rally with a camo-clad Emmeline, and the highlight of the show, a vivacious Frida Kahlo who teams up with Jane Austen for a colourful dance routine that serves as a reminder to the lead character – and all the impressionable young people in the audience – that artistic icons can change the world just as much as scientists and sports stars.
FGWWCTW is very much a children’s musical and yet it doesn’t shy away from presenting both the highs and lows of their ‘great’ lives, from Earhart’s disappearance to Pankhurst’s long wait for the smallest of changes. But unlike the big Disney or Roald Dahl shows that have huge crossover appeal for youngsters and adults alike, FGWWCTW will resonate primarily with those of a school-going age, and rightly so – that’s exactly who it is made for.
Also, coming from the producers of fellow feelgood feminist hit Six, much has been made of potential similarities between the two which might be setting expectations a little high for some. This is especially true when it comes to the songs which, while very good at driving the narrative, you’re unlikely to find yourself humming long after leaving the auditorium.
FGWWCTW is an infectiously fun musical of female empowerment that will have youngsters, quite literally, punching the air in joy and defiance.
Wales Millennium Centre until January 21