Chichester: Fantastically Great Women and a fantastic message

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World, Chichester Festival Theatre, January 12-16

Fantastically Great Women, credit Pamela Raith Photography
Fantastically Great Women, credit Pamela Raith Photography

If you had a young daughter right now, you’d definitely be buying her tickets for Fantastically Great Women at the CFT.

With its superb closing number and its constant upbeat messaging of positivity and empowerment, it’s a show that’s got confidence-booster written all over it – a show which grows and grows impressively after a start that’s, well frankly, just a bit clunky and laboured.

The set-up is that Jade, a young girl burdened with her own set of troubles back home, breaks away from her class to take a peek behind the scenes at the not yet open Gallery of Greatness in the local museum.

And it’s there that she runs into the perfect gang of women to put her worries into perspective and make her realise that she is as Fantastically Great as they all are. It’s a wonderful message to offer.

And Fantastically Great is precisely what the performance is from Nielle Springer as Jade. She’s a remarkable talent, hugely expressive, with lovely rhythm and genuine stage presence.

She alone is the biggest reason to see the show – though there are great performances too from the cast of four who spring to life as Fantastically Great women ranging from Frida Kahlo to Rosa Parks and from Amelia Earhart to Emmeline Pankhurst.

But if there’s a problem with the show, it’s that the producers/promoters are so keen to tell us that this is the follow-up to the international hit musical Six – which inevitably invites unfair comparisons.

With the best will in the world, Fantastically Great Women isn’t remotely in the same league.

Both shows run straight through, both are pop musicals, both are pleading the case for overlooked women.

But while Six absolutely buzzes from first to last and never remotely feels like a history lesson. Fantastically Great Women clunks at first and then belabours us with historical fact.

Maybe the sense of underlining and double underlining which runs right through is because this is much more of a children’s show. In which case the producers would be wise not to stress Six quite so much.

Which isn’t remotely to say Fantastically Great Women isn’t enjoyable. It is hugely so towards the end, and the Rosa Parks lullaby is exceptionally powerful, as is the poignant appearance of Anne Frank.

The finale is fantastically great and Nielle Springer is beyond fantastically great. The only issue is that the whole thing just isn’t as fantastically great as maybe we’d been hoping for.