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Review: Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World, WMC Cardiff

Elena Breschi as Frida Kahlo Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

The Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) Cardiff, has started off the year with a kick ass-pirational stage show Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World. 

The production is based on the award-winning popular children’s picture book of the same name by British author Kate Pankhurst, a descendant of a suffragette featured within the story. 

The book has been adapted by Chris Bush (Standing at the Sky’s Edge) with music by number 1 hit songwriter Miranda Cooper (Girls Aloud and Kylie Minouge) and Jennifer Decilveo (Miley Cyrus and Beth Ditto).  

Rachel Seirian

The story follows Jade, 11 – nearly 12 – year old who strays from her class whilst on a school trip visiting the local museum. She ends up in a new ‘Gallery of Greatness’ not yet open to the public. Jade played in this performance by Rachel Seirian shows the awe of a child met by the incredible wonder women featured within the exhibit. 

Throughout the performance and with each new person that Jade meets, we learn more about Jade’s story. Being a pre-teen alone isn’t easy, feeling as though everything you do is wrong, trying to find your place in the world and choose what it is you want to do with your life. 

Sometimes children find acting out means they’ll be noticed, all the while just wanting to be a child and have a say in what happens in their life. 

Life isn’t quite as easy as that though, as they say ‘when it rains, it pours’ and unfortunately poor Jade is also coping with her parents going through a divorce. UK statistics show that approximately 42% of marriages end in divorce, often children are caught in the middle and made to feel like they have to choose between their parents. A difficult position for anyone to be in, especially so young and not something that should be put on the shoulders of someone so young.

Jade learns with every new fantastically great woman that she meets, despite adversity and the world (often men) telling them no or they’re incapable, it’s possible to thrive.  

With the cast consisting of eight individuals, each actress’s big personality and incredible talent truly shown through.

Leah Vassell as Amelia Earhart Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

Leah Vassell flies onto stage as Amelia Earhart, nurses us through mid-show as Mary Seacole and sits down for justice as Rosa Parks. Three of the many fantastic women we encounter. 

Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and the first solo person to fly across the Pacific Ocean. Earhart was very ambitious and whilst trying to be the first person to fly solo around the world in 1937 she disappeared. However, she is not forgotten and an international group of female pilots ‘The Ninety-Nines’ is still going strong.

Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus and sat down for what she believed in. This was the start of a movement where black people boycotted the buses until laws were changed.

Leah Vassell as Rosa Park Credit Pamela Raith Photography

Elena Breschi took us on an adventure to find ourselves through the footsteps of Sacagewea – though it wasn’t until the character was named that we knew who she was – perhaps the costume could have linked more to her native American roots. Painted a picture of the hard life that Frida Kahlo had but with determination succeeded, and was radioactive in her performance as Marie Curie.

Marie Curie, from a poor Polish family saved up to study at a Parisian university of science. She went on to create a mobile x-ray machine, discovered two new elements and won the Nobel Prize twice. The only person ever to have won in two different fields of science. 

Left to right: Elena Breschi as Marie Curie, Leah Vassell as Mary Seattle and Chlöe Hart as Mary Anning Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

Chlöe Hart, swims on stage as Gertude Ederle, whilst giving novel ideas as Jane Austin and helps Jade to find some great discoveries about herself as Mary Anning.

Jane Austin, British author wrote some of the world’s best loved books, sadly having to hide her identity when publishing her first book. Her stories ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and Mansfield Park (to name but a few)  have been adapted a number of times to films  and TV shows.

Jennnifer Calddwell, truly rouses the crowd as Emmeline Pankhurst in her fight for women’s rights and I’m sure many young girls now want to be a spy with her performance as Agent Fifi. 

Jennifer Caldwell (right) as Emmeline Pankhurst Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

Emmeline Pankhurt, ancestor of the creator of the story and suffragette founder explains how change takes time. Starting the campaign for women’s right to vote in 1903, it wasn’t until 1928 that women over 21 were able to vote and had the same voting rights as men. What we found great was the link to current society, how over a 120 years later we seem to be going backwards not forwards, with women’s rights over their own bodies being impeded. 

The opening number ‘Quiet Children’ really tells of the craziness that comes along with being a teacher on a school trip, and got a few laughs from the adults about what it’s like to try and wrangle a class of kids.

School teachers Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

Our favourite song has to be ‘Deeds not Words’, Emmeline Pankhurst’s motto and a great clash of past and present coming together.

The costumes were colourful and well designed, the one that really stood out for us was Frida Kahlo’s. As Frida tells her story, contracting Polio as a child and a life alternating car accident, you can still have that metamorphosis to a butterfly and find your place. Even it means a different path to what you had expected.

You usually don’t see the musician during theatre performances, to have then visible on stage the set built around them was a nice surprise. The lighting changing with the music and the band become a real part of the performance as much the ladies front and centre.

This multiple talented all female cast, musicians and crew (though there are a few men within the creative team), shows that you don’t need a man on stage to make a performance great. Though there were a few technical issues with microphones – it’s opening night and very rarely do things go as planned – these ladies powered through to be heard by all.

We meet so many fantastically great historical women throughout the performance, learn about not only what they did during their life, but how their work has impacted the world and encouraged other women to follow in their footsteps.

A show that is inspirational for the next generation, educational for our young children – and adults – and giving a snapshot into the centuries and decades passed. 

We thought the concessions stand with some of Kate Pankhursts books was a great touch, it’s a great way to encourage children to continue learning even after the performance. We think this is a great show for all of the family, with the earlier start time of 7pm in the week Wednesday and Thursday and no interval kids aren’t out late on a school night. 

Age guidance: 7+

Start time: Wed – Thu 7pm

Fri – Sat 4pm and 7:30pm

Sun 3pm

Running time: approximately 80 minutes (no interval)There are some earlier performances available too, you can find out more details on performance times and to book tickets here.