‘Joyful and life-affirming’
The 1980’s comedy classic “9 To 5” was a pivotal film in addressing gender imbalance in the workplace and now it’s been adapted into a musical by talented musician and lyricist Dolly Parton, one of the original cast members. She bought the rights to the story over 30 years ago with the intention of doing a sequel that never came to fruition but now “9 To 5” has found a second life as an uplifting musical that’s as timely today as it was in the 80’s.
Office co-workers Violet, Judy and Doralee have been putting up with their sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot of a boss, Mr. Hart and driven to distraction by his antics which include passing Violet over for promotion (again), spreading rumours about Doralee and continuously belittling Judy. A dire misunderstanding leads them to take drastic action - fulfilling the fantasies of everyone in the audience who’s ever had a nightmare boss on whom they would dearly love to exact justice.
The script is taut, funny and visceral. The score by Dolly Parton is inspired and catchy. Parton understands the characters well and as a result, most are more fully fleshed-out than in the film, giving them more backstory, such as Doralee’s “Backwoods Barbie”. It explains her humble beginnings and frustration at being judged solely on her appearance. There’s also the addition of a love interest for Violet and a few modern-day twists and references that offer a nod to the contemporary audience.
The Gatehouse’s production is ambitious and for the most part it’s a spirited, uplifting effort. There was a little too much furniture movement, especially in dance routines, making it overly frenetic. At times, it was quite nerve-wracking as wayward props went flying (including a falling picture frame hitting one of the actors on the head) which only served to distract from the play itself.
The three leads were excellent; all with different skills and distinctive styles. Pippa Winslow played Violet’s biting wit with fantastic comic timing and balanced it brilliantly with her vulnerability at being wooed by new love interest Joe. Amanda Coutts as Judy had an unrivalled singing voice, beautifully evocative and nailed Judy’s twee naivety splendidly, portraying her journey from newly divorced timid ingénue to a confident woman in charge of her own life. Louise Olley was practically bursting with the vitality of Doralee and her frustration at untapped potential. Olley had a strong country voice and played to perfection the perpetually optimistic backwoods Barbie with hidden depths. Leo Sené as the unscrupulous Mr. Hart also turned in a superbly obnoxious performance as the weasely boss who genuinely can’t understand the problem these little ladies have with his managerial style.
The supporting cast give it their all; it’s a production that pulls out all the stops. Despite a few minor bumps, the cast shine and it’s a joyful and life-affirming production that brings a smile to your face, makes you tap your toe and want to join in.
Presented by Joseph Hodges Entertainment
Box Office: 0208 340 3488 / www.upstairsatthegatehouse.com
Reviewer Annie Power is an award-winning writer, director and FCP Editor.