9 to 5, the 2008 musical based on the hit 1980 movie starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, would seem on the surface to be a strange choice for a West End revival and UK tour in 2019. In the era of #MeToo, it appears that too often that even the most questionable content can be given a free pass if it marks itself as a period piece, is given a glossy coating, has some jolly songs and is marketed as supposedly raising issues of gender equality and sexual politics, even if its done in the dodgiest of fashions. Thankfully, for the most part, director Jeff Calhoun has managed to address the most unpalatable Carry On-like antics of previous productions.
In a nutshell it’s the story of three office workers: Doralee (Georgina Castle), Judy (Amber Davies) and Violet (Louise Redknapp) who unite to turn the tables on their monstrous boss (Sean Needham), tying him up in his own bondage gear and running the office where they work under their own rules.
It is a show of two unequal halves, both literally and figuratively, the first running at one hour ten minutes and packed full of action, the second at a short 45 minutes is actually padded out with some unnecessary songs then rushes to a conclusion that neatly wraps up the action. The entire show is stylistically a bit unimaginative, it takes the stereotypical eye-poppingly colourful 80s look but doesn’t do too much with it, there are a few key set-pieces that are wheeled on and off multiple times. It is all perfectly pleasant but no more than that.
Both Davies and Castle are supremely talented, Davies’ rendition of the Defying Gravity-like Get Out and Stay Out is a show-stopper as is Castle’s Backwoods Barbie and to his great credit, Sean Needham manages to keep tyrannical, misogynistic, panto villain boss Franklin Hart Jnr. entirely likeable. Less successful, though is Redknapp, who, while competent in the pivotal role, is a little lacklustre in her energy level and her voice suffers in comparison to her co-stars. It also needs to be said that the shrillness of the dialogue and the uneven American accents mean that a lot of the jokes fail to land as the audience can’t actually hear them clearly.
While on the surface it may aim to be a rallying cry for working women everywhere, it still retains a few too many mores of 70s and 80s sitcoms. While director Calhoun has managed to negotiate a more palatable path through the material, it might be time for either a bit more of a refresh of the book or a female director. It is interesting to note that the most well rounded, nuanced character is the seemingly ditzy blonde. All that said, if you take it entirely at surface level then it is a bit of fluffy, escapist, crowd-pleasing fun, with a talented and committed cast, and the overwhelmingly female audience seem to adore it, needing no encouragement to get on their feet to sing and dance along with the encore.
Runs until 12 October 2019 | Image: Simon Turtle