“a meticulous performance”

Dolly Parton’s hit show ‘9 to 5’, set in 1970s America, follows the journey of 3 women striving to overcome misogyny in their workplace. Playing just after International Women’s Day, ‘9 to 5’ was the perfect show to reiterate the timeless message of the power, strength, and independence of women. 

Lauren Williams and her assistant director Grayson Burr did a stellar job of transporting the audience to the bustling office setting. From their exquisite casting to creative staging ideas, they led the 70 strong cast and crew with the utmost professionalism. However, some blocking choices in the dance numbers had the dance ensemble blocking the soloists, detracting from the impact of the songs. Despite this, Livia Avey and Sophie Wises’ well-considered choreography lit up the group numbers, though occasionally the limits of the stage size restricted the dancers’ ability to execute each move fully. Potentially a choice to have a smaller ensemble cast could have been made, although I respect the Woodplayers for making their show as inclusive as they did, allowing so many performers to get back on the stage after what Williams points out, in her director’s notes, was a challenging few years for the society due to Covid. 

The show went from strength to strength, though specific mention must go to the professionalism of the tech, masterminded by tech directors Alex Hamilton and Kevin Roice. Their attention to detail was second to none, utilising every tech opportunity Mark Hillary as a venue had to offer. Aliya Edwards’ lighting design was genius, shining specifically in the dream sequence section where it felt as if the audience had been transported right into the 3 girls’ murderous fantasies. Additionally, seamless transitions helped to maintain the fast-paced buzz of the show. 

Musical directors Tom Klafkowski and Pang Ranunthiya deserve great recognition for their work. Every solo number was meticulously prepared and the tight harmonies in the big group numbers shone, boosting the energy of the show. Additionally, as Williams mentions in her director’s notes, it was Josh Tarrier who ‘saved the day’, stepping in as band MD. He expertly led the band and, even when moments of songs were accidentally skipped by performers, he was able to seamlessly navigate the band through this. The band itself was perfection, their sharpness resembled that of a group that had been playing together for years, not weeks.  

Unsurprisingly for a show with such a feminist message, it was the 3 female principals that made the show. As a trio, Issey Dodd, Lolly Sillitoe and Olivia Wilson had unmatched chemistry, supporting each other on stage throughout. Any time the 3 women united on stage, the atmosphere was electric, notable was their heart-warming performance of ‘I Just Might’ in incredible 3-part harmony. Issey Dodd as the headstrong, downtrodden Violet Newstead, commanded the stage like she did the office. Her gorgeous vocal tone soared through every number, specifically stunning the audience with her comedic but powerful rendition of ‘One Of The Boys’. Dodd and her love interest Joe, played by Carl Murta, blended perfectly in ‘Let Love Grow’, with their on-stage chemistry increasing as the song went on. Likewise, Olivia Wilson as the flustered office newbie Judy Bernly was perfection. She captured Judy’s journey to independence and empowerment extremely well, with a studied nuance behind every acting choice. It was a meticulous performance. Her performance climaxed in her stunning and vocally impressive rendition of ‘Get Out And Stay Out’, with her effortless crystal clear voice conquered this notoriously challenging song. Furthermore, Lolly Sillitoe as the lovable southern belle was the clear standout in the already very strong cast. She mastered the soft southern accent and her powerful, rich voice with a lovely wide vibrato stole the show in ‘Backwoods Barbie’ and ‘Cowgirl’s Revenge’, at points leaving the audience wondering whether it was Lolly on stage or Dolly Parton herself!

Cameron Manning as Hart was another example of casting perfection. His performance as the misogynistic CEO was phenomenal throughout. His sleazy but utterly hilarious portrayal had the audience in hysterics, whilst still not undermining the clear antagonistic role of the character. His extremely nuanced rendition of ‘Here For You’ was an audience favourite, with Manning committing to the grotesque comedy of the song completely. 

Jemima Abate as gossipy, lovestruck assistant Roz Keith was brilliant, really coming into her own in her comedic performance of ‘Heart To Heart’, pulling off the hard job of leaving the audience both laughing at her and sympathising for her. Had Jemima made some bolder, caricature-like acting choices, the role’s comedic potential would have been even more fulfilled. Other memorable cameos included Zoë Haramis as the office drunk Margaret and Bethan Sharps, who intermittently lit up the stage with comedic interludes. In the group numbers, I wished the ensemble provided the same energy that the principal cast and band had, with a lack of facial expression and confidence in the dance numbers from members of the ensemble becoming slightly distracting, although lots of this can be attributed to first night nerves. 

The audience left feeling ecstatic, a testament to the talent and hard work of the cast and crew who all worked together to put on a show that was clearly as fun and uplifting for them as it was for the audience.

By Emily Phillips

‘9 to 5’ is playing at the Mark Hillery Centre until Sunday 13th March

Photo credits: Collingwood Woodplayers