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Nina Jervis Reviews 9 To 5 At the Cliffs Pavilion
Thanks to Nina Jervis from www.ninathewriter.com for this review.
“We’re going on a wild ride back to the ‘80s”, chirps Dolly Parton at the start of 9 to 5.
Dolly appears, dressed to the nines of course, in a glittering gold clock face above the stage, sprinkling pre-recorded messages throughout the show. Not only do they set the scene as only Dolly can, they remind us that 9 to 5 has her glitzy stamp all over it.
That isn’t a bad thing. On a dull, drizzly evening in January, escaping back in time with Dolly is the ultimate tonic… and you may not even need the gin.
Designed by Tom Rogers, the set is fantastic; created from flashing retro computer screens that change colour depending on where we are – the office, at home, or in an S&M bedroom (more on that later).
Meanwhile, the unashamedly in-your-face story focuses on three women uniting to take revenge on their lazy, misogynistic monster of a boss, Franklin Hart Jnr.
As you might expect, every character is larger-than-life, particularly the women at the centre of the action, office supervisor Violet (Sarah-Marie Maxwell), shy new girl Judy (Vivian Panka) and ‘backwoods Barbie’ Doralee (Stephanie Chandos), a happily married secretary whom everybody mistakenly thinks is sleeping with the boss.
Doralee is the role originally played by Dolly herself in the 1980 film, and Chandos embodied it with warm, frothy, instantly likable aplomb. Panka confidently belted out one of the best songs of the show, Get Out and Stay Out, in which she finally tells her cheating husband where to go.
But Maxwell was particularly outstanding as Violet (Claire Sweeney will assume the role from Thursday), especially in the all-singing, all-dancing light-show fantasy sequence that sees Violet taking over as the company’s CEO. Her talent and ambition was almost tangible as it radiated through the theatre.
Sean Needham played Hart, the hated boss, in true pantomime villain style, and most of the show’s belly laughs came from his joyfully over-the-top performance – particularly at the end of Act One, when he’s hanging from the ceiling in full S&M gear (don’t worry, it’ll make sense when you see it!)
Some parts of the story are a bit dated. There’s a bespectacled office drone, Roz, who removes her glasses and lets down her hair to reveal a corseted hedonist underneath – though she’s played rather marvellously by Julia J Nagle.
There’s also an abundance of Dick jokes (it’s someone’s actual name, by the way!) that could have been lifted straight from a Carry On film, and it’s a shame that when the women finally take over the office, they make their mark by putting flowers and baby photos on the desks.
But it’s the show’s central message, that hard-working women deserve to be treated fairly and equally, that resonates loud and clear throughout.
Over 40 years on, it’s a message that’s still glaringly relevant (“We won’t be having this conversation in 10 years’ time”, Violet remarks on discovering she’s getting paid far less than the men, to rumbled groans from the audience).
However, there’s a satisfying ending waiting for each of the characters, and as Dolly returns to give us a rousing rendition of 9 to 5, getting most of the audience up and dancing in the process, you’re left with the feeling that this show is well worth tumblin’ outta bed for.