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9 to 5

Social revolutions usually proceed in steps, and it is only by looking back that one can see what the major landmarks were. In women’s fight for the equal rights and respect to which they are entitled, the recent emergence of the #MeToo movement will surely be seen to have loomed large; in a very different way and on a very different level, the 1980 film 9 to 5 will have played its part too, especially in its 2009 re-incarnation as a musical composed by Dolly Parton.

It tells the story of three women working in a soulless office dominated by a ruthless, sexist boss, who promotes only men and regards women as good for just one thing: guess what. The three conspire to kidnap him and to take over the office, making it a more human and sympathetic – and successful – place. For sure, it’s a rather far-fetched plot, but through music and comedy, it makes its point far better than a humourless coven of dungareed harpies could ever do.

It is a show that tests a society’s depth of talent because it calls for three really strong female leads, and this production has got them. Julie Sissons as their leader, Violet, is outstanding. She dominates every scene she is in, moves well and has immaculate timing. Just occasionally she tends towards the strident, but the power of her performance is that she portrays a woman who is a very strong character but also attractively feminine. Selina Rumbold is the (initially) hopeless ingénue Judy, and subtly conveys how Judy’s personality grows as the story unfolds; the confidence and energy with which she belts out ‘Get out and stay out’ in act 2 is proof of that. Doralee was the original Dolly Parton role, and Hermione Mason plays her with appropriate buxomness, both literally and figuratively. She shows herself a talented comedienne in ‘Cowgirl’s revenge’. All three sing beautifully, and their harmonies in ‘I just might’ and ‘Shine like the sun’ are among the best things in the show.

The performance of Lee Neal as their odious boss –‘what a rat, what a liar, what a creep’ – suffers not at all by comparison with these three. You almost end up liking him for the enthusiasm with which he embraces his unpleasantness, and his comic timing is impeccable. His worshipper in the office – so the sworn enemy of our three heroines – is Roz, and here again, one ends up feeling sorry for her thanks to Beverley Beck’s sympathetic interpretation. Duncan Sayers as Joe make the most of his one number, ’Let love grow’.

The minor parts played by members of the ensemble are a little difficult to differentiate; what cannot be mistaken is the enjoyment which the whole cast get from the modern, upbeat music. Suzi DeVilliers’s energetic choreography helps; the ladies dance delightfully, but the highlight is definitely the cavorting of the men in ‘One of the boys’.

Director Duncan Trew has set the action against a cleverly simple basic set. This serves as the background to mini-sets and props that are manipulated on and off stage at enormous speed by the stage crew and cast. The music in no way lets down the other aspects of the production; the musical director is Alastair Hume.

It is a show that everyone (especially men) should see, and this is a production that you will enjoy. It is at the Tivoli until 30 June at 7.30 each evening.