Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World is a full-on, over-the-top, one-mode show that creates 85 minutes of relentless, in-your-face, loud singing and shouty proclamations. This brings nothing but sheer delight to all who clap joyfully along, but if you’re not in that joyful bunch (of predominantly young girls and women) beware – there’s no interval!

Adapted by Chris Bush from the picture book by Kate Pankhurst, granddaughter of a certain Emmeline, the show has a dozen famous women from history explode onto the stage, all eager to strut their choreographed stuff in unlikely combinations, aggressively delivering assertive, pounding songs and proclaiming bare-bone facts about their achievements. With no real acting involved, these individuals are not given rounded characterisations, but are, for the most part, all equally self-obsessed and shouty, occasionally verging on the hysterical. Only towards the end do Anne Frank and Rosa Parks introduce brief, rare elements of nuance, thoughtfulness, selflessness and balance – and a ballad. Mainly, the women are interpreted simplistically and superficially, not according to motives, mores and mind-sets of their own day, but according to current egocentric ways of thinking. Modesty, quiet persistence, forbearance, patience, service and duty are not high on today’s agenda.

In cubes neatly outlined by strips of coloured light on a pleasingly bright, attractive set, the three musicians sit high above the action and separate from it, on percussion and keys. Below, neat wooden crates and handsomely lit arrows and chevrons represent the museum in whose gallery schoolgirl Jade is accidentally left behind by teachers, and where she encounters these historical figures, each one insistent on inspiring her with loud advice on how to be fantastically great, how to be phenomenal and change the world by following her dreams, aspirations and passions, by being determined, ambitious and assertive (and possibly obnoxious.) They don’t dwell on the sacrifices and misery they and/or those around them, endured, nor on the fact that they themselves didn’t set out deliberately to be fantastically great. Rosa Parks, though, in quieter mode, does eventually tell Jade she can also be great by being just a small part of a larger movement, or, indeed, just by being. Phew!

Lots of interesting costumes combine nods to historical periods with current-day and futuristic fashions: Emmeline Pankhurst appears in purple and grey camouflage combats, for example, and Marie Curie in black Sci-Fi outfit with atomic headgear, while Jane Austen is more of a Little Bo Peep in laced plimsolls. Frida Kahlo’s floaty dress is particularly colourful as she sings of A World of Colour, a song that, like the rest, results from collaborations between Miranda Cooper, Chris Bush and Jennifer Decilveo. A universal favourite is Mary, Mary, Marie – and Agent Fifi (that’s Mary Seacole, Mary Anning, Marie Curie and Agent Marie Christine Chilver) while catchy songs like Deeds, Not Words! and the big, finale number Fantastically Great are ideal for getting join-ins going.

Welcome humour is liberally sprinkled throughout, but overall, the show lacks the greater wit, depth, expert crafting and variety of something like Horrible Histories, and it’s unlikely anyone learns much other than snippets they already knew. One young lad in the audience, possibly an advocate of balance and equality, was asking why there’s not a single male in cast or band, and why the only male representations are curly moustaches held up on sticks.

As this linear, somewhat fragmented show desperately hammers home its aspirational, “go-for-it” message a million times and always keeps the “fun” going, its high energy and volume do bring obvious enjoyment to many who think it is, indeed, fantastically great.

Eileen Caiger Gray

Poole, Stratford East in London and Canterbury are next on the tour. You can find out more by visiting the website by following this link.