Well, this was different – and actually a cracking choice. EODS brings a Texas twang to Sussex this week with the Dolly Parton musical 9 to 5 at the Devonshire Park Theatre.
9 to 5 is hard to categorise. Go expecting some kind of Dolly Parton tribute and you will be disappointed: only the title song is recognisable, and actually the score could do with bigger set-piece numbers. But this is a show that grows on you. It is funny, irresistibly quirky and full of energy.
The opening number, lengthy but immaculately choreographed, whisks us back – via a lurching, strap-hanging subway ride – to a time-warp 1979 corporate office, somewhere in the US.
All the details are lovingly correct, from regimented desks and old-fashioned typewriters to a boss with a slick suit and a Tom Selleck moustache. Indeed, the detail is so faithful that the audience is braced for a piece of social comment, around the issues of the day: male chauvinism, sexual attitudes, hierarchies, women in the workplace.
Then, half an hour in, the show explodes into a hilarious, extravagant riot of fantasy. Realism and credibility are tossed out of the office window, and suddenly the downtrodden secretaries of the ninth floor have cast off their shorthand pads. Boss Mr Hart’s trio of female adversaries lapse into murderous fantasies; Judy as an unforgiving femme fatale, Doralee as a kinky crack rodeo star, and Violet as a deranged Snow White with a cuddly army of forest animals. Madness, but great fun.
Cue improbable gangsters, preposterous kidnappings and poisoned cups of coffee, before all is resolved and, of course, our heroines triumph in the end.
There are super character parts aplenty, and in a talented cast – including some new EODS faces – everyone finds the right niche. The leads are never knowingly underplayed. Phil Poole brilliantly spoofs the corrupt boss role, full of odious attitudes and outrageous conduct. The three conspiring ladies are assertive and engaging, with Nikki Leach bringing particular depth and poignancy to Judy. Hannah Poynter is a wonderfully twanging Backwoods Barbie and Anita Garai holds the stage as Miss Sensible Violet. Rebecca Bruce amusingly milks the frustrated Roz role. Smaller cameo parts give lots of openings for the company’s wide talents.
Tuesday’s opening night ran pretty smoothly, although the maddening 22 scene changes test the patience. It is a flaw of the show, not of Keith Smith’s very accomplished direction, and a heroic crew does its very best with a formidable task. Carl Greenwood and his band are assured and professional, and Teresa Smith’s choreography is terrific, using space creatively and drawing smart routines from an ensemble which never tires and never stops smiling.
How is your own week: working a tedious 9 to 5 too? Go on, indulge yourself in a couple of hours of escapism with EODS! Devonshire Park Theatre till June 4th, evenings 7.45 with a 2.30 matinee on Saturday. By Kevin Anderson.