Can it really be almost 40 years since one of my all-time favourite films, ‘9 to 5’, came out? Apparently so: it was in 1980 that screen icons Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin exacted revenge on their male chauvinist boss, played with glee by Dabney Coleman.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the stage production of ‘9 to 5’ that recently arrived in the West End. It has a great cast: Louise Redknapp, Natalie McQueen, Amber Davies, Brian Conley and Bonnie Longford and is playing at one of my favourite theatres, the Savoy, so the omens were good – but I couldn’t help but wonder how its themes would translate to the present day.
I needn’t have worried. This was one of the happiest, most fun evenings I’ve spent at the theatre in a long time: a treat from start to finish and one which left the audience on its feet roaring for more. As it happens it couldn’t be more timely, thanks to #MeToo – but more on that later.
How I love the Savoy Theatre. Known as “the most beautifully fitted theatre in Europe”, it opened in 1881 and became famous as the first public building in the world to be lit by incandescent electric lights, or “fairy lights”, as we know them. That blend of modern and old makes it the perfect setting for a show which may have been written four decades ago but which still has much of relevance to say about women’s lib. and equal rights. So much so that Patricia Resnick, who wrote the original film screenplay as well as adapting it for the stage, is now working on a sequel with Rashida Jones.
For her part, Dolly Parton wrote the soundtrack for ‘9 to 5’s 2009 Broadway run – and was rightly Tony and Grammy-nominated; the music is glorious. Even better, Dolly herself introduces and concludes the show: an unexpected touch that we all loved.
For those unfamiliar with the ‘9 to 5’ storyline, I’d like to introduce you to Violet, Judy and Doralee: three women brought together by the unfortunate coincidence of working for the dastardly Franklin Hart Jnr. Our three heroines are very different personalities, with different ambitions. Doralee (played to perfection by Natalie McQueen, sporting a delectable southern accent) is happily married and ambitious – but is misunderstood by her colleagues, who believe her to be sleeping with Franklin.
That reprobate is played by Brian Conley – who is a revelation. I’ve not seen Conley on stage before and was bowled over by his charisma and by how he managed to invest some humanity into a character without too many redeeming features.
Violet, played by Louise Redknapp, has worked for Franklin for years and is outwardly resigned to his womanising ways. Intelligent and professional, she has long strived towards a promotion which Franklin dangles, enticingly, just out of reach. She is also widowed, and bringing up a teenager: your heart goes out to her as she mothers her younger colleagues, protecting them as much as she can from the casual sexism that is the reality of 1980s office life.
And then there’s Judy, played by Amber Davies. Grief-stricken over her husband leaving her for a younger (!) woman, this is her first job – and she is painfully out of her depth. Watching her blossom as she forms a friendship with Doralee and Violet is a joy to behold.
Indeed, there’s a warmth and a camaraderie between the three actresses which can’t be faked and that’s one of the many factors which makes this show so watchable. Don’t get me wrong, ‘9 to 5’ tackles some weighty issues: sexism, misogyny, bereavement and grief among them – but it does so with a deftness of touch and an optimism which cannot help but make you smile. It’s also self-aware: there are a number of knowing asides to the audience, referencing current events, which leave both cast and audience grinning.
Our heroines are thrown together when one of them accidentally poisons Franklin…or does she? Now what should they do? And how to throw the scheming Roz, played by Bonnie Langford, off the scent? Langford, I have to say, is a delight: she’s hysterically funny and steals every scene she’s in.
What will happen after Violet poisons Franklin? Will he see the error of his ways? Will our heroines achieve their just desserts? And will the company’s CEO recognise their worth? This is a spoiler-free zone, so I will leave you to mull over the above and, hopefully, go to see ‘9 to 5’ and find out for yourselves. It’s a brilliant night out.
Special thanks to Ellie and Kelly, who looked after us so beautifully in the Ambassador’s Lounge. Their hospitality and kindness was the icing on what was an already delicious cake.