Sunday, 3 September 2017

Review: 9 to 5, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

"I might just make it work"

As frothy as 9 to 5 the Musical may seem, it shouldn't be underestimated as a piece of theatre that puts three women front and centre in its narrative - it can feel like these sadly remain as few and far between in the 1980 of the original film as it does in the 2017 of the UK fringe premiere of its musical adaptation. And reflecting that, director Joseph Hodges and casting director Harry Blumenau have really done the business in selecting a terrific trio to lead their show.

Pippa Winslow's Violet leads from the front with a wonderfully wry wit and poised determination, Amanda Coutts' Judy blossoms in self-confidence throughout to nail her 11 o'clock number, and Louise Olley's Doralee is an utterly radiant stage presence, delivering the kind of direct eye contact that could leave a boy questioning his sexual preferences. And together, these three secretaries at Consolidated Industries tackle workplace misogyny in their own inimitable way.

Patricia Resnick's book, from her own screenplay co-written with Colin Higgins, is a trifling fancy but it does contain nuggets of office-based truth - the way in which malicious gossip is all too easily believed, how appearances shape our opinions no matter what we say, how photocopiers are the work of the devil if you're up against a deadline. And as a revenge fantasy accidentally turned real, it is engagingly fun, particularly where Leo Sené's lecherous boss Franklin Hart, Jr. is concerned (boy's got some serious comic skills in the making there). 

Dolly Parton's score mixes original tracks with choice selections from her back catalogue and ultimately it is a solid rather than a stand-out collection. Oliver Hance's band certainly give it their best shot though and in a recurring theme, finds its greatest successes when the leads are together. The gentle hopefulness of 'I Just Might', the effervescence of Act 1 closer 'Shine Like The Sun', the rousing sentiment of 'Change It' - Winslow, Coutts and Olley are magic together. 

It's a shame then that Hodges doesn't allow his production to rest on these strengths. Chris Whittaker's choreography is both over-insistent (it doesn't always feel needed, as in making a comedy routine out of sexual harassment) and over enthusiastic (it frequently tries too hard, the frenetic demands of the opening number proving too hard to keep in sync). Where it works, as in the showbiz routine for 'One of the Boys', the dance is dreamy but too often, less would very much be more.

And the design can feel a little ramshackle at times, the intimacy of the Gatehouse is unforgiving to the smaller details and the work here isn't always as up to the mark as it could be. But it is the performances that are the key - Samantha Giffard's Roz is another highlight - and here, 9 to 5 delivers, what a way to make a livin' eh?!

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Kevin Ralph
Booking until 1st October

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